In order to investigate the specific factors controlling the growth of normal breast cell types, purified populations of human breast epithelial and myoepithelial cells from reduction mammoplasties were grown in primary culture in three defined media and their response to foetal calf serum (FCS), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF2) measured using MTT growth assays. Epithelial and myoepithelial cells differed markedly in their growth requirements. Whereas epithelial cell survival was dependent on the presence of FCS, myoepithelial cell growth was dramatically inhibited by serum. EGF and FGF2 were mitogenic for epithelial cells but not myoepithelial cells, the addition of insulin being the only essential supplement required for myoepithelial cell growth. Heparin inhibited FGF2-stimulated epithelial cell growth but also basal myoepithelial cell proliferation and this inhibition could be overcome by the addition of EGF. Neutralizing antibodies to EGF also inhibited basal myoepithelial cell growth. This suggests the possibility of an autocrine role for a heparin-binding member of the EGF family in the growth of myoepithelial cells. Purified cells combined to form lobuloalveolar structures when incubated in a reconstituted basement membrane matrix (Matrigel) in the presence of EGF and FGF2.