The conversion of androstenedione (A) to estrogens, testosterone (T) and 5 alpha-reduced metabolites was studied in different phases of cell growth in 4 lines of cultured human breast carcinoma cells. Aromatase activity was 10-fold greater in MD and DM than in MCF7 cells and was undetectable in ZR75 cells. Estrogen formation in MD and DM lines increased during the phase of exponential growth and decreased to 20% of maximum during confluence. 5 alpha-Reductase activity was determined by the formation of 5 alpha-androstane-3,17-dione (5 alpha-A-dione) and androsterone (AND), and was 5-fold greater in ZR75 cells than MD cells and 2-fold greater than in MCF7 cells. This activity was relatively constant during exponential growth and decreased during confluence. T accumulation was inversely related to 5 alpha-reductase activity. The MCF7 and ZR75 cells which contain estrogen receptors had the highest levels of 5 alpha-reductase activity while the MD line which lacks estrogen receptors had the lowest 5 alpha-reductase activity. The assessment of aromatase and 5 alpha-reductase activity in addition to estrogen and progesterone receptors may be helpful in predicting hormone sensitivity in human breast tumours.