Toll-like receptor-9 (TLR9) is a DNA receptor widely expressed in cancers. Although synthetic TLR9 ligands induce cancer cell invasion in vitro, the role of TLR9 in cancer pathophysiology is unclear. We discovered that low tumor TLR9 expression is associated with significantly shortened disease-specific survival in patients with triple negative but not with ER+ breast cancers. A likely mechanism of this clinical finding involves differential responses to hypoxia. Our pre-clinical studies indicate that while TLR9 expression is hypoxia-regulated, low TLR9 expression has different effects on triple negative and ER+ breast cancer invasion in hypoxia. Hypoxiainduced invasion is augmented by TLR9 siRNA in triple negative, but not in ER+ breast cancer cells. This is possibly due to differential TLR9-regulated TIMP-3 expression, which remains detectable in ER+ cells but disappears from triple-negative TLR9 siRNA cells in hypoxia. Our results demonstrate a novel role for this innate immunity receptor in cancer biology and suggest that TLR9 expression may be a novel marker for triple-negative breast cancer patients who are at a high risk of relapse. Furthermore, these results suggest that interventions or events, which induce hypoxia or down-regulate TLR9 expression in triple-negative breast cancer cells may actually induce their spread. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2012.