The EGF family of proteins encompasses several polypeptides such as epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor alpha (TGF alpha), amphiregulin (AR) and heregulin (HRG-beta 1). These polypeptides regulate proliferation in breast cancer cells through interaction with membrane receptors. It has been previously shown that high EGF receptor number correlates with aggressive behavior and increased metastasis in human breast cancer. In the present study, we investigated the association between EGF and EGF-like ligand-induced DNA synthesis and secretion of MMP-9 and MMP-2 in metastatic SKBR-3 and non-metastatic MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Exposure of SKBR-3 cells to EGF or AR induces expression of MMP-9 but has no effect on MMP-2 secretion. In contrast to EGF and AR, HRG had no effect on gelatinase induction. None of the EGF polypeptides had any effect on gelatinase induction in MCF-7 non-metastatic breast cancer cells. While a relatively specific inhibitor of EGF receptor tyrosine kinase, PD 153035, inhibited EGF-, AR- and HRG-induced cell proliferation, it had no effect on MMP-9 induced by EGF and AR. Experimental evidence suggests that signaling mechanisms for cell proliferation and MMP-9 induction are mediated by different pathways down-stream of EGF receptor autophosphorylation or that low levels of EGF-induced signal that escape inhibition are sufficient to induce MMP-9 but unable to support cell proliferation. In addition, our results suggest that EGF and AR may modulate invasion of metastatic breast cancer cells by increasing the expression of MMPs.