ARTICLE ABSTRACTNotch ligands signal through one of four receptors on neighboring cells to mediate cell–cell communication and control cell fate, proliferation, and survival. Although aberrant Notch activation has been implicated in numerous malignancies, including breast cancer, the importance of individual receptors in distinct breast cancer subtypes and the mechanisms of receptor activation remain unclear. Using a novel antibody to detect active NOTCH3, we report here that NOTCH3 signals constitutively in a panel of basal breast cancer cell lines and in more than one third of basal tumors. Selective inhibition of individual ligands revealed that this signal does not require canonical ligand induction. A NOTCH3 antagonist antibody inhibited growth of basal lines, whereas a NOTCH3 agonist antibody enhanced the transformed phenotype in vitro and in tumor xenografts. Transcriptomic analyses generated a Notch gene signature that included Notch pathway components, the oncogene c-Myc, and the mammary stem cell regulator Id4. This signature drove clustering of breast cancer cell lines and tumors into the common subtypes and correlated with the basal classification. Our results highlight an unexpected ligand-independent induction mechanism and suggest that constitutive NOTCH3 signaling can drive an oncogenic program in a subset of basal breast cancers. Cancer Res; 77(6); 1439–52. ©2017 AACR.