Melatonin (aMT) appears to be a potentially important oncostatic substance that can block the mitogenic effects of tumour-promoting hormones and growth factors such as oestradiol and epidermal growth factor, in vitro. In the present study, we examined the possibility that aMT would also inhibit the stimulatory effects of the tumour-promoter prolactin (PRL) on MCF-7 and ZR75-1 human breast cancer cell (HBC) growth under 5% charcoal-stripped fetal bovine serum culture conditions. Human PRL (10-100 ng ml-1) stimulated the rate of MCF-7 and ZR-75-1 HBC growth up to 2-fold above that of untreated controls. Melatonin, at concentrations between 10(-12) M and 10(-5)M, diminished and at physiological levels completely abolished PRL's mitogenic activity, but had no effect on growth in the absence of PRL. The mitogenic effects of human growth hormone (hGH), a PRL-related hormone, and also of several monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) against the PRL receptor (PRLR), were also abrogated by physiological concentrations of aMT. Additionally, aMT blocked the enhancement of MAb mitogenic activity induced by a second 'cross-linking' antibody (CLA). These findings indicate that aMT interrupts the PRLR-mediated growth signal in HBC and suggest that the oncostatic activity of aMT may also be linked with an antagonism of PRL's actions.