Exposure of ZR-75-1 human breast cancer cells for 48 h to human recombinant interferon alpha (IFN alpha) resulted in increased expression of oestrogen receptors as measured in a whole cell binding assay. This effect was inversely proportional to dose being significant following treatment with 10-100 IU IFN ml-1 and was only observed at a low initial cell plating density. The extent of the increase in oestrogen receptor levels ranged from 1.2- to 7.2-fold following treatment with 10 IU IFN ml-1. No increase in progesterone receptor expression was observed under the same experimental conditions. Concentrations of IFN which increased oestrogen receptor levels had no effect on cell proliferation. IFN (500 IU ml-1) inhibited cell proliferation and the combination of this treatment with tamoxifen (2 microM) had a greater anti-proliferative effect than either drug alone although there was no evidence of synergism. However, a 5-day pretreatment of cells with IFN (10 IU ml-1) markedly sensitised them to the growth-inhibiting effect of a subsequent 6-day exposure to tamoxifen.