Résumé : Estrogens and antiestrogens promote specific conformations of the estrogen receptor (ER). To analyze the influence of such configurations on the stability of the ligand-ER complexes, MCF-7 breast cancer cells were exposed for 1 h to either [3H]E2 or an unlabeled estrogen or antiestrogen (E2, DES, E1, BP; OH-Tam, RU 39 411, ICI 164 384, RU 58 668); mutual exchange rates of bound compounds (i.e., [3H]E2 → ligand; ligand → [3H]E2) were then analyzed in cell extracts by measuring [3H]E2. Addition of cycloheximide (CHX) to the incubation medium eliminated the potential interference of E2-induced ER loss. Extracts from control untreated cells were labeled with [3H]E2 or one of these various ligands and similarly submitted to exchange. Displacement of bound compounds occurred at moderate temperature (18°C) but not at 4°C. Remarkably, exchange proceeded at a lower rate in extracts from cells preincubated with [3H]E2 or a ligand. Antiestrogens RU 39 411 and RU 58 668 appeared especially refractory to displacement. Such low exchange rates were also recorded in experiments conducted on whole cells although to a higher extent than in extracts from preincubated cells. Enzyme immunoassays demonstrated that absence of major exchange could not be attributed to ER loss. Moreover, displacement of bound ligands appeared independent of their binding affinity for the receptor. These data suggest that estrogen and antiestrogen binding is stabilized by at least one factor (coactivators or corepressors) thus fixing the receptor molecules in a configuration that is relatively resistant to subsequent exchange. FPLC and PgR induction revealed that a significant proportion of ER maintained in a sufficiently flexible status was still able to exchange and transduce the transcriptional message of the displacer ligand.