Multiple clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate the potential antitumor activity of human TNF variants, Fas ligand (FasL), TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) and its agonistic antibodies. These drug products act through the death receptors (DRs) TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1), Fas/CD95, DR4 (TRAIL-R1) and/or DR5 (TRAIL-R2), respectively. Therefore, characterization of the level and localization of DR expression in cancer cells is important for DR-targeted therapy. In this study, we examined the subcellular distribution of the four DRs in a panel of 10 human breast cancer cell lines by western blots and flow cytometry and 50 human breast tumors by immunohistochemistry. Despite their total protein expressions, the DRs were found to be absent on the surface of some cell lines. Consistent with this result, all four DRs were found to be mostly expressed in the cytoplasm and/or the nucleus of primary breast tumors (n=50). We further determined the growth inhibition activity (GI50) of the death ligands, recombinant human TNFα, FasL and TRAIL, and found a correlation with the subcellular localization of the corresponding DRs. These results demonstrate an aberrant expression of the death receptors in breast cancer cells, and suggest that the lack of surface DRs appears to be predictive of tumor resistance to DR-targeted therapies.