Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) isolated from rodent amniotic fluid or human cord sera, upon incubation with a molar excess of estradiol, is converted to a form which inhibits estrogen-stimulated tissue growth. The purpose of this study was to determine whether recombinant human AFP produced in an E. coli expression system retained this function. The recombinant protein was similar to the natural protein isolated from pooled human cord sera in all functional aspects evaluated. It was detected by monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies to the natural protein. Following exposure to estradiol, it was converted to an inhibitor of estrogen-stimulated growth of immature mouse uterus yielding a dose/response curve similar to that of the natural protein. It inhibited the growth of estrogen-dependent (MCF-7) but not estrogen-independent (MDA-MB-231) breast cancer xenografts with the same schedule dependency and resultant histological changes as the natural protein. Availability of large quantities of homogeneous, biologically active recombinant human AFP will facilitate further studies of structure/function, mechanism, and therapeutic potential of this agent as a regular of breast cancer growth.