We have compared all available deduced protein sequences of the ErbB family of receptors and their ligands. Analysis of the aligned sequences of the receptors indicates that there are some differences in the receptors that are specific to invertebrates. In addition, comparison of the vertebrate ErbB receptors suggest that a gene duplication event generated two ancestral receptors, the ErbB3/ErbB4 precursor and the ErbB1/ErbB2 precursor. Subsequent gene duplications of these precursors generated the four receptors present in mammals. Analysis of the sequences for the known ligands of the ErbB receptors suggests that the vertebrate ligands segregate into the ErbB1 ligands and the ErbB3/ErbB4 ligands, paralleling the evolution of the receptors; however, it is difficult to ascertain any correlation between the invertebrate and the vertebrate ligands. Even though ErbB3 is kinase-impaired, there is significant conservation of the kinase domain within the vertebrate lineage (human, rat, and F. rubripes), suggesting some function for this domain other than kinase activity, such as mediating protein-protein interactions that are involved in receptor dimerization and/or activation of the kinase domain of the heterodimerization partner. To date, no ligand for ErbB2 has been identified, and comparison of the extracellular domains of ErbB2 reveals two regions that are not conserved across the mammalian species. These two regions of divergence align with sequences in ErbB1 that have been shown to be proximal to the amino-terminus and to the carboxyl-terminal region, respectively, of bound EGF. Further, one of these regions contains an insertion, relative to the other members of the mammalian ErbB family, which might affect the ligand binding site and provide a structural basis for this receptor's apparent inability to bind ligand independently.