Breast cancer (BrCa) is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in North American women. Most deaths are caused by metastasis, and BrCa is characterized by a distinct metastatic pattern involving lymph nodes, bone marrow, lung, liver and brain. Migration of metastatic cells share many similarities with leukocyte trafficking, which are regulated by chemokines and their receptors. The current study evaluates the expression and functional role of CCR9, and its only known ligand, CCL25, in BrCa cell migration and invasion. Quantitative immunohistochemical analysis showed that both moderately and poorly differentiated BrCa tissue expressed significantly more (P<0.0001) CCR9 compared to non-neoplastic breast tissue. Interestingly, poorly differentiated BrCa tissue expressed significantly more (P<0.0001) CCR9 compared to moderately differentiated BrCa tissue. Similarly, CCR9 was highly expressed by the aggressive breast cancer cell line (MDA-MD-231) compared to the less aggressive MCF-7. Migration as well as invasion assays were used to evaluate the functional interaction between CCR9 and CCL25 in BrCa cell lines (MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7). Neutralizing CCR9-CCL25 interactions significantly impaired the migration and invasion of BrCa cells. Furthermore, CCL25 enhanced the expression of MMP-1, -9, -11 and -13 active proteins by BrCa cells in a CCR9-dependent fashion. These studies show CCR9 is functionally and significantly expressed by BrCa (poorly > moderately differentiated) tissue and cells as well as that CCL25 activation of this receptor promotes breast tumor cell migration, invasion and MMP expression, which are key components of BrCa metastasis. Copyright © 2011 Spandidos Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.