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The cellular and molecular effects of the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib on breast cancer cells are as yet poorly characterized. Here, in a panel of six breast cancer cell lines, bortezomib reduced viability in a concentration-dependent, time-dependent, and cell line-dependent manner. Proteasome activity was relatively high in two of the three more resistant cell lines. No relationship was observed between bortezomib effects on cell viability and expression/phosphorylation of HER-2, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), AKT, or extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2). Molecular effects of bortezomib were further studied in SK-BR-3 and BT-474 cells because they share expression of EGFR and overexpression of HER-2 while, in contrast, SK-BR-3 cells were 200-fold more sensitive to this agent. Proteasome activity was inhibited to a similar extent in the two cell lines, and known proteasome substrates accumulated similarly. In SK-BR-3 cells, a marked inhibition of EGFR, HER-2, and AKT phosphorylation was observed at a clinically relevant concentration of bortezomib. In contrast, phosphorylation of Raf/mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1/2 (MEK 1/2)/ERK1/2 increased by bortezomib. In BT-474 cells, the effects were much less pronounced. Treatment of SK-BR-3 cells with bortezomib combined with pharmacologic inhibitors of EGFR, phosphatidylinositol 3'-kinase, or MEK resulted in modest or no enhancement of the effects on cell viability. Collectively, these results show that bortezomib has differential cellular and molecular effects in human breast cancer cells. The bortezomib-observed effects on signaling transduction molecules might be relevant to help to design mechanistic-based combination treatments.