TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) induces apoptosis upon binding to TRAIL receptors 1 and 2 (TRAIL-R1/DR4 and TRAIL-R2/DR5). TRAIL-R3 (DcR1) and TRAIL-R4 (DcR2) have no or only a truncated cytoplasmic death domain. Consequently, they cannot induce apoptosis and instead have been proposed to inhibit apoptosis induction by TRAIL. Agonists for the apoptosis-inducing TRAIL-R1 and TRAIL-R2 are currently tested in clinical trials. To determine the expression pattern of all surface-bound TRAIL receptors and their prognostic clinical value, we investigated tumour samples of 311 patients with breast cancer by immunohistochemistry. TRAIL receptor expression profiles were correlated with clinico-pathological data, disease-free survival and overall survival. TRAIL-R1 was more strongly expressed in better differentiated tumours, and correlated positively with surrogate markers of a better prognosis (hormone receptor status, Bcl-2, negative nodal status), but negatively with the expression of Her2/neu and the proliferation marker Ki67. In contrast, TRAIL-R2 and TRAIL-R4 expression correlated with higher tumour grades, higher Ki67 index, higher Her2/neu expression and a positive nodal status at the time of diagnosis, but with lower expression of Bcl-2. Thus, the TRAIL receptor expression pattern was predictive of nodal status. Patients with grade 1 and 2 tumours, who had TRAIL-R2 but no TRAIL-R1, showed a positive lymph node status in 47% of the cases. Vice versa, only 19% had a positive nodal status with high TRAIL-R1 but low TRAIL-R2. Most strikingly, TRAIL-R4 and -R2 expression negatively correlated with overall survival of breast cancer patients. Although TRAIL-R2 correlated with more aggressive tumour behaviour, mammary carcinoma could be sensitised to TRAIL-R2-induced apoptosis, suggesting that TRAIL-R2 might therefore be used to therapeutically target such tumours. Hence, determination of the TRAIL receptor expression profile may aid in defining which breast cancer patients have a higher risk of lymph node metastasis and worse overall survival and on the other hand will help to guide TRAIL-based tumour therapy.