Current understanding of cytoplasmic signaling pathways that mediate estrogen action in human breast cancer is incomplete. Here we report that treatment with 17beta-estradiol (E2) activates a novel signaling pathway via activation of sphingosine kinase (SphK) in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. We found that E2 has dual actions to stimulate SphK activity, i.e. a rapid and transient activation mediated by putative membrane G protein-coupled estrogen receptors (ER) and a delayed but prolonged activation relying on the transcriptional activity of ER. The E2-induced SphK activity consequently activates downstream signal cascades including intracellular Ca2+ mobilization and Erk1/2 activation. Enforced expression of human SphK type 1 gene in MCF-7 cells resulted in increases in SphK activity and cell growth. Moreover, the E2-dependent mitogenesis were highly promoted by SphK overexpression as determined by colony growth in soft agar and solid focus formation. In contrast, expression of SphKG82D, a dominant-negative mutant SphK, profoundly inhibited the E2-mediated Ca2+ mobilization, Erk1/2 activity and neoplastic cell growth. Thus, our data suggest that SphK activation is an important cytoplasmic signaling to transduce estrogen-dependent mitogenic and carcinogenic action in human breast cancer cells.