The ability of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family members, EGFR, HER2, HER3, and HER4, to form homo- and heterodimers after interaction with different ligands expands the signal diversity of these proteins. We investigated their mechanism of activation by exogenous EGF and heregulin (HRG) in human ovarian carcinoma cell lines which express different amounts and combinations of the four receptors. Consistently the predominant interaction after EGF treatment was between EGFR and HER2, whereas activation of HER3 and HER4 depended on the relative abundance of the four receptors in the cells. Remarkably HER3 activation by HRG could occurs independent of HER2, and in one cell line almost no HER4 activation by HRG was detected despite high levels expression. Both EGF and HRG induced activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), but the time course of MAPK activation differed depending on the hetero-dimers induced. EGF and HRG mediated cell growth through the EGFR/HER2 heterodimer and HER4, respectively, but not through HER3 when it was the only HRG receptor expressed and phosphorylated in the cells. These findings reveal a distinct pattern of HRG induced EGFR family interaction in ovarian cancer that is distinct from that described in human breast cancer. Moreover EGF and HRG can exert distinct biological functions depending on the receptor complexes induced in a given ovarian cancer cell line.