Abstract In this study we observed the incidence of hormone sensitivity in the response of MCF-7 cells to estrogen stimulation when the cells were cultured in different contact environments (hydrophilic plastic, bovine corneal extracellular matrix, type I collagen and in suspension culture). The major purpose was to describe the influence of cell to cell and cell to substrate contacts on the morphological response to estrogen treatment. However, other parameters including growth and induction of progestin receptor were also explored, keeping in mind that the MCF-7 cell line, although representative of normal mammary epithelium in that it contains a similar hormone receptivity, was selected in vitro from a metastatic population in a pleural effusion. Although substrate conditions did not modify growth enhancement by estrogens, progestin receptor levels were significantly higher in three-dimensional spheroid cultures in which cell to cell contacts were optimal due to elimination of basal contact. A careful morphological survey of large surfaces lead to an objective opinion of the overall effect of the hormone treatment on the non-cloned cell line in which a marked heterogeneity in the response of individual cells was observed. In terms of morphofunctional differentiation, the edification of acini with dense microvillus coating was best in suspension culture. When sections were made perpendicular to the plane of cultures on collagen gel rafts two other phenomena were noted: decrease in intercellular junctions, resulting in reduced cell to cell cohesion, and accumulation biodegradation products in the collagen lattice. This suggested a hormone-mediated interaction between the metastatic cells and the fibrillar substrate, collagen I, one of of the major constituents of tissue stroma. This estrogen response might be related to the metastatic phenotype and must be distinct from their hormone sensitivity in terms of growth and differentiation since hormone receptivity is generally considered to be a favorable prognosis for breast cancer.