1. Signal transduction pathways activated during growth of human breast cancer cells in tissue culture are reviewed. 2. Steroid hormones and growth factors stimulate similar mitogenic pathways and frequently modulate each other's activity. 3. A response common to estrogen, progestins and most polypeptide mitogens is induction of the nuclear transcription factors myc, fos and jun in early G1 phase of the cell cycle. 4. Some growth factors also stimulate cyclin D1, a regulatory protein responsible for the activation of cell cycle-dependent kinases in G1. 5. In addition, insulin, IGF-I and EGF activate tyrosine kinase receptors. 6. Several tyrosine phosphorylated proteins occur in human breast cancer cells, and include the EGF and estrogen receptors. 7. Cyclic AMP plays a critical role in breast cancer cell proliferation through the activation of protein kinase A, and it also modulates the activity of estrogen and progesterone receptors. 8. EGF is the only breast cell mitogen known to raise intracellular free calcium levels. 9. Calcium may play a dual role in breast cancer cell proliferation, activating both calmodulin-dependent processes and regulating cell membrane potential through the activation of potassium channels. 10. Potassium channel activity and cell proliferation are linked in breast cancer cells, the cell membrane potential shifting between a depolarized state in G1/G0 cells and a hyperpolarized state during S phase. 11. Activation of an ATP-sensitive potassium channel is required for breast cancer cells to undergo the G1/G0-S transition.