Oestradiol (E2) stimulates the growth of hormone-dependent breast cancer. 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenases (17beta-HSDs) catalyse the pre-receptor activation/inactivation of hormones and other substrates. 17beta-HSD1 converts oestrone (E1) to active E2, but it has recently been suggested that another 17beta-HSD, 17beta-HSD12, may be the major enzyme that catalyses this reaction in women. Here we demonstrate that it is 17beta-HSD1 which is important for E2 production and report the inhibition of E1-stimulated breast tumor growth by STX1040, a non-oestrogenic selective inhibitor of 17beta-HSD1, using a novel murine model. 17beta-HSD1 and 17beta-HSD12 mRNA and protein expression, and E2 production, were assayed in wild type breast cancer cell lines and in cells after siRNA and cDNA transfection. Although 17beta-HSD12 was highly expressed in breast cancer cell lines, only 17beta-HSD1 efficiently catalysed E2 formation. The effect of STX1040 on the proliferation of E1-stimulated T47D breast cancer cells was determined in vitro and in vivo. Cells inoculated into ovariectomised nude mice were stimulated using 0.05 or 0.1 microg E1 (s.c.) daily, and on day 35 the mice were dosed additionally with 20 mg/kg STX1040 s.c. daily for 28 days. STX1040 inhibited E1-stimulated proliferation of T47D cells in vitro and significantly decreased tumor volumes and plasma E2 levels in vivo. In conclusion, a model was developed to study the inhibition of the major oestrogenic 17beta-HSD, 17beta-HSD1, in breast cancer. Both E2 production and tumor growth were inhibited by STX1040, suggesting that 17beta-HSD1 inhibitors such as STX1040 may provide a novel treatment for hormone-dependent breast cancer.