We investigated the influence of normal cell phenotype on the neoplastic phenotype by comparing tumors derived from two different normal human mammary epithelial cell populations, one of which was isolated using a new culture medium. Transformation of these two cell populations with the same set of genetic elements yielded cells that formed tumor xenografts exhibiting major differences in histopathology, tumorigenicity, and metastatic behavior. While one cell type (HMECs) yielded squamous cell carcinomas, the other cell type (BPECs) yielded tumors closely resembling human breast adenocarcinomas. Transformed BPECs gave rise to lung metastases and were up to 10(4)-fold more tumorigenic than transformed HMECs, which are nonmetastatic. Hence, the pre-existing differences between BPECs and HMECs strongly influence the phenotypes of their transformed derivatives.