We have investigated the effects of estrogens and antiestrogens on cellular DNA-dependent DNA polymerase activity in human breast cancer, using as a model the MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line which contains estrogen receptor. 17 beta-Estradiol had little if any effect on cytosol DNA polymerase activity or growth (total DNA per flask) of MCF-7 cells. Incubation of the cells for 4 to 6 days with the antiestrogen nafoxidine, however, resulted in a dose-dependent reduction in cytosol DNA polymerase activity to one-half that observed in untreated cells. Enzyme activity in antiestrogen-treated cells was restored to levels contained in untreated cells by removing antiestrogen from the growth medium and incubating the cells for an additional 4 days with 17 beta-estradiol. The restoration required estrogenic steroids specifically, and the time course, magnitude, and dose dependence of the response were similar to estrogen-stimulated increases in DNA polymerase activity described in other estrogen target tissues. Estrogen-mediated reversal of antiestrogen suppression of DNA polymerase activity was paralleled by increases in total DNA synthesis.