Accumulation of hyaluronan has been demonstrated in the peritumoral breast cancer stroma and nests of tumor cells. In this study, we have quantified the production of hyaluronan and the expression of mRNAs encoding hyaluronan synthesizing (HAS) and hyaluronan degrading (HYAL) enzymes in a panel of breast cancer cell lines. The analysis revealed that highly invasive breast cancer cells produce high amounts of hyaluronan and express preferentially HAS2 mRNA, whereas less invasive breast cancer cells produce low amount of hyaluronan and express HAS1 and HYAL1 mRNAs. We explored the importance of HAS2 expression for breast cancer tumorigenicity, by specifically silencing the HAS2 gene using RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated suppression in the invasive breast cancer cell line Hs578T. This led to a less aggressive phenotype of the breast tumor cells, as assessed by cell growth, both in anchorage-dependent and anchorage-independent cultures. siRNA-mediated knock down of HAS2 in Hs578T breast tumor cells led to an up-regulation of HAS1, HAS3 and HYAL1 mRNAs, resulting in only a 50% decrease in the net hyaluronan production; however, the synthesized hyaluronan was of lower size and more polydisparse compared to control siRNA-treated cells. Interestingly, Hs578T cells deprived of HAS2 migrated only half as efficiently as HAS2 expressing cells through cell-free areas in a culture wounding assay and through Transwell polycarbonate membrane as well as invaded a Matrigel layer. These results imply that alterations in HAS2 expression and endogenously synthesized hyaluronan affect the malignant phenotype of Hs578T breast cancer cells. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.