Eighteen breast cancer cell lines were examined for expression of markers of epithelial and fibroblastic differentiation: E-cadherin, desmoplakins, ZO-1, vimentin, keratin and beta 1 and beta 4 integrins. The cell lines were distributed along a spectrum of differentiation from epithelial to fibroblastic phenotypes. The most well-differentiated, epithelioid cell lines contained proteins characteristic of desmosomal, adherens and tight junctions, were adherent to one another on plastic and in the basement membrane matrix Matrigel and were keratin-positive and vimentin-negative. These cell lines were all weakly invasive in an in vitro chemoinvasion assay. The most poorly-differentiated, fibroblastic cell lines were E-cadherin-, desmoplakin- and ZO-1-negative and formed branching structures in Matrigel. They were vimentin-positive, contained only low levels of keratins and were highly invasive in the in vitro chemoinvasion assay. Of all of the markers analyzed, vimentin expression correlated best with in vitro invasive ability and fibroblastic differentiation. In a cell line with unstable expression of vimentin, T47DCO, the cells that were invasive were of the fibroblastic type. The differentiation markers described here may be useful for analysis of clinical specimens and could potentially provide a more precise measure of differentiation grade yielding more power for predicting prognosis.