BACKGROUND: X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1), a transcription factor involved in unfolded protein response, is also an estrogen-regulated gene and strongly correlates with estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) expression in breast cancers. We investigated the functional role of XBP1 in estrogen responsive breast and endometrial cancer cells as its functions are not fully understood. MATERIALS AND METHODS: ERα positive breast (MCF7) and endometrial (ECC1) cancer cells were used to study XBP1 gene regulation by 17-β-estradiol (E2) and to investigate the role of XBP1 in E2-mediated growth using short interfering RNA. Quantitative real-time PCR and Western blot were used to assess RNA and protein levels. Recruitment of ERα and other cofactors at the promoter and enhancer region of the XBP1 gene was investigated by chromatin immunoprecipitation. Estrogen responsive element (ERE)-mediated transcriptional activity was evaluated by a luciferase reporter assay. RESULTS: E2 induced the transcription of XBP1 in both MCF7 and ECC1 cells. E2-dependent recruitment of ERα, steroid receptor coactivator (SRC)-1 and SRC-3, and RNA polymerase II were observed at the promoter and/or enhancer region of the XBP1 gene. Depletion of XBP1 markedly inhibited the E2-induced growth in MCF7 and ECC1 cells. However, ERE-mediated transcription was not altered in XBP1-overexpressing or XBP1-depleted MCF7 cells. CONCLUSION: Our results confirm E2-induced transcription of XBP1 and demonstrate the crucial role of XBP1 in E2-induced growth of ERα positive breast and endometrial cancer cells without modulating the classical ERE-mediated transcription by ER. This knowledge creates new opportunities for therapeutic interventions.