The factors that determine whether a breast carcinoma will develop into inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) remain poorly understood. Recent evidence indicates that the tumor stroma influences cancer phenotypes. We tested the hypotheses that the gene expression signature of the tumor stroma is a distinctive feature of IBC. We used laser capture microdissection to obtain enriched populations of tumor epithelial cells and adjacent stromal cells from 15 patients with IBC and 35 patients with invasive, noninflammatory breast cancer (non-IBC). Their mRNA expression profiles were assessed using Affymetrix GeneChips™. In addition, a previously established classifier for IBC was evaluated for the resulting data sets. The gene expression profile of the tumor stroma distinguished IBC from non-IBC, and a previously established IBC prediction signature performed better in classifying IBC using the gene expression profile of the tumor stroma than it did using the profile of the tumor epithelium. In a pathway analysis, the genes differentially expressed between IBC and non-IBC tumors clustered in distinct pathways. We identified multiple pathways related to the endoplasmic stress response that could be functionally significant in IBC. Our findings suggest that the gene expression in the tumor stroma may play a role in determining the IBC phenotype. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.