Recent successes in the pharmacotherapeutic treatment of breast cancer are associated with the use of selective estrogen receptor modulators. Two commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals in this class, tamoxifen and raloxifene, have been shown to have effects through estrogen receptor (ER)-independent mechanisms. Hyperactivation of phospholipase D (PLD) in certain tumor-derived cell lines have been reported, and recent findings suggest a role for PLD in transformation and metastasis. In the present study, we compare the effects of tamoxifen and raloxifene on PLD in the ER-positive mammary epithelial cell line MCF-12A, and the ER-negative, highly tumorigenic mammary carcinoma cell line MDA-MB-231. Our data demonstrate that tamoxifen and raloxifene have differential effects on PLD catalytic activity. Tamoxifen stimulates PLD in both ER-positive and -negative cells in vivo, whereas raloxifene inhibits PLD activity in these same cell types. In addition, we show that the active metabolite 4-OH-tamoxifen can be used to pharmacologically discriminate the two isoforms of PLD, through a stimulatory effect on PLD1 and an inhibitory effect on PLD2. Using recombinant PLD1, we show stimulation by tamoxifen requires a factor present in Sf21 insect cells that is not required for inhibition of PLD1 by raloxifene. Furthermore, tamoxifen stimulation and raloxifene inhibition of PLD activities are independent of the amino-terminal portion of PLD1 (amino acids 1-324). Knowledge of the mechanisms of action of these drugs on PLD may provide insights into the pharmacological action of these drugs and the role of PLD in some cancers.