Transformation of cultured chick lens epithelial cells with a temperature-sensitive mutant of Rous sarcoma virus (tsRSV) leads to radical changes in cell shape and interactions. When cultured at the restrictive temperature (42 degrees C), the transformed cells largely retained epithelial morphology and intercellular adherens junctions (AJ), whereas on switch to the permissive temperature (37 degrees C) they rapidly became fibroblastoid, their AJ deteriorated, and cell adhesion molecules (A-CAM) (N-cadherin) largely disappeared from intercellular contact sites. The microfilament system that was primarily associated with these junctions was markedly rearranged on shift to 37 degrees C and remained associated mainly with cell-substrate focal contacts. These apparent changes in intercellular AJ were not accompanied by significant alterations in the cellular content of several junction-associated molecules, including A-CAM, vinculin, and talin. Immunolabeling with phosphotyrosine-specific antibodies indicated that both cell-substrate and intercellular AJ were the major cellular targets for the pp60v-src tyrosine-specific protein kinase. It was further shown that intercellular AJ components serve as substrates to tyrosine kinases also in nontransformed lens cells, because the addition of a combination of vanadate and H2O2--which are potent inhibitors of protein tyrosine phosphatases--leads to a remarkable accumulation of immunoreactive phosphotyrosine-containing proteins in these junctions. This finding suggests that intercellular junctions are major sites of action of protein tyrosine kinases and that protein tyrosine phosphatases play a major role in the regulation of phosphotyrosine levels in AJ of both normal and RSV-transformed cells.