We have examined the expression of receptors for epidermal growth factor (EGFR) by the ZR-75-1 human breast cancer cell line and tamoxifen resistant (ZR-75-9al 8 microM) and oestrogen independent/tamoxifen sensitive (ZR-PR-LT) variants. The parent line expressed a single class of high affinity binding sites (4,340 +/- 460 receptors/cell; Kd 0.23 +/- 0.04 nM). ZR-75-9al 8 microM cells, routinely maintained in medium containing 8 microM tamoxifen, were negative for oestrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PGR) and expressed a markedly increased number of EGFR (14,723 +/- 2116 receptors/cell). Receptor affinity was unchanged. Time dependent reversal of the tamoxifen resistant phenotype was accompanied by a return to ER and PGR positivity and a fall in EGFR numbers to parent cell levels. In contrast ZR-PR-LT cells had a greatly reduced EGFR content (803 +/- 161 receptors/cell) accompanying elevated PGR numbers. Pre-treatment of these cells with suramin or mild acid stripping failed to expose receptors which may have been occupied by endogenously produced ligand. Increased proliferation of ZR-75-1 cells treated with EGFR (0.01-10 ng ml-1) was only observed in serum-free medium lacking insulin and oestradiol. Under these conditions untreated cells failed to proliferate. Both variant lines continued to proliferate in serum free medium in the absence or presence of insulin and oestradiol but failed to respond to exogenous EGF.