A cDNA library was constructed from the mRNA of the ZR-75 oestrogen responsive human breast cancer cell line and screened for oestrogen regulated mRNA sequences. Of the recombinants isolated, 30 contained cDNA that corresponded to a single mRNA species of 2.1 kb that was induced between 10 and 15 fold by oestradiol treatment. The sequence of the entire open reading frame and 3'non-coding region of the mRNA was determined and shown to encode the aspartyl protease cathepsin D. The induction of cathepsin D mRNA is specific for oestrogen and is maximal at 3 × 10 −10 M. Cathepsin D mRNA levels were increased by oestrogen in 3 oestrogen responsive breast cancer cell lines. Cathepsin D mRNA was expressed but not regulated in an oestrogen receptor negative breast tumour cell line, BT 20, and in 2 other malignant cell lines, Hela and A431.