The DEAD-box RNA helicases p68 (DDX5) and p72 (DDX17) have been shown to act as transcriptional co-activators for a diverse range of transcription factors, including oestrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha). Here, we show that, although both proteins interact with and co-activate ERalpha in reporter gene assays, small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of p72, but not p68, results in a significant inhibition of oestrogen-dependent transcription of endogenous ERalpha-responsive genes and oestrogen-dependent growth of MCF-7 and ZR75-1 breast cancer cells. Furthermore, immunohistochemical staining of ERalpha-positive primary breast cancers for p68 and p72 indicate that p72 expression is associated with an increased period of relapse-free and overall survival (P=0.006 and 0.016, respectively), as well as being inversely associated with Her2 expression (P=0.008). Conversely, p68 shows no association with relapse-free period, or overall survival, but it is associated with an increased expression of Her2 (P=0.001), AIB-1 (P<0.001) and higher tumour grade (P=0.044). Our data thus highlight a crucial role for p72 in ERalpha co-activation and oestrogen-dependent cell growth and provide evidence in support of distinct but important roles for both p68 and p72 in regulating ERalpha activity in breast cancer.