Three human breast cancer cell lines from pleural effusions (MDA-MB-435, MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468) and one from a brain metastasis (MDA-MB-361) were tested for growth potential in vitro (minimum serum requirements, growth in semisolid agarose), for tumorigenicity and metastasis in nude mice following injection into the mammary fatpad (m.f.p.) and intravenously (i.v.), and for formation of experimental brain metastasis following injection into the carotid artery (i.a.). Colony-forming efficiency of the breast cancer cells in dense agarose corresponded with metastatic potential of the m.f.p. tumors. The results consistently ranked the 4 cell lines as follows: MDA-MB-435 greater than MDA-MB-231 greater than MDA-MB-468 greater than MDA-MB-361, from the most to the least aggressive. The exception was for tumor growth in the brain after i.a. injection of cells, where MDA-MB-361 cells were ranked as second highest for tumor take, but with the slowest growth rate. These results indicate that in this series of breast carcinomas, the cells from a brain metastasis (MDA-MB-361) have a lower malignant potential than cells from visceral metastases.