To correlate the variable clinical features of oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer with somatic alterations, we studied pretreatment tumour biopsies accrued from patients in two studies of neoadjuvant aromatase inhibitor therapy by massively parallel sequencing and analysis. Eighteen significantly mutated genes were identified, including five genes (RUNX1, CBFB, MYH9, MLL3 and SF3B1) previously linked to haematopoietic disorders. Mutant MAP3K1 was associated with luminal A status, low-grade histology and low proliferation rates, whereas mutant TP53 was associated with the opposite pattern. Moreover, mutant GATA3 correlated with suppression of proliferation upon aromatase inhibitor treatment. Pathway analysis demonstrated that mutations in MAP2K4, a MAP3K1 substrate, produced similar perturbations as MAP3K1 loss. Distinct phenotypes in oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer are associated with specific patterns of somatic mutations that map into cellular pathways linked to tumour biology, but most recurrent mutations are relatively infrequent. Prospective clinical trials based on these findings will require comprehensive genome sequencing.