© Spandidos Publications 2015. All rights reserved. Every year, a large number of women succumb to metastatic breast cancer due to a lack of curative approaches for this disease. Adiponectin (AdipoQ) is the most abundant of the adipocyte-secreted adipokines. In recent years, there has been an interest in the use of AdipoQ and AdipoQ receptor agonists as therapeutic agents for the treatment of breast cancer. However, while multiple epidemiological studies have previously indicated that low levels of circulating plasma AdipoQ portend poor prognosis in patients with breast cancer, recent studies have reported that elevated expression levels of AdipoQ in breast tissue are correlated with advanced stages of the disease. Thus, the aim of the present study was to clarify the mechanism by which AdipoQ in breast tissue acts directly on tumor cells to regulate the early steps of breast cancer metastasis. In the present study, the effects of different AdipoQ isoforms on the metastatic potential of human breast cancer cells were investigated. The results revealed that globular adiponectin (gAd) promoted invasive cell morphology and significantly increased the migration and invasion abilities of breast cancer cells, whereas full-length adiponectin (fAd) had no effect on these cells. Additionally, gAd, but not fAd, increased the expression levels of microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta (LC3B)-II and intracellular LC3B puncta, which are indicators of autophagosome formation, thus suggesting autophagic induction by gAd. Furthermore, the inhibition of autophagic function by autophagy-related protein 7 knockdown attenuated the gAd-induced increase in invasiveness in breast cancer cells. Therefore, the results of the present study suggested that a specific AdipoQ isoform may enhance breast cancer invasion, possibly via autophagic induction. Understanding the roles of the different AdipoQ isoforms as microenvironmental regulatory molecules may aid the development of effective AdipoQ-based treatments for breast cancer.