The concentration of Ca++ in culture media profoundly affected the growth and differentiation properties of normal human mammary epithelial cells in short-term culture. In media where Ca++ was above 0.06 mM, longevity was limited to an average of three to four cell divisions. The extended growth fraction (those cells able to divide more than once) was only approximately 50% and diminished to zero quickly with time. Stationary cells inhibited from dividing appeared differentiated in the formation of lipid vacuoles and accumulation of alpha-lactalbumin. Growth of stationary cultures could be reinstituted in about half the cells, either by disruption and transfer or by a reduction in Ca++ to less than 0.08 mM. The reduction of Ca++ to levels below 0.08 mM extended the longevity of normal cells to eight to nine divisions. The extended growth fraction was 100%. Under these conditions, cells did not differentiate. The effects of Ca++ on growth and differentiation were specific (Mg++ and Mn++ variations were without effect) and reversible and in many respects resembled Ca++ effects on epidermal cells. One major difference is that the dual pathways of growth and differentiation in mammary cells were controlled by glucocorticoid and insulin. Based on the kinetics of the reversible Ca++-induced coupling and uncoupling of proliferation and the program of differentiation, we proposed that Ca++ may be an essential trigger for cell divisions that commit a mammary cell to differentiate progressively in a permissive hormonal milieu.