The antiproliferative effects of gamma-tocotrienol are associated with suppression in epidermal growth factor (EGF)-dependent phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K)/PI3K-dependent kinase-1 (PDK-1)/Akt mitogenic signalling in neoplastic mammary epithelial cells. Studies were conducted to investigate the direct effects of gamma-tocotrienol treatment on specific components within the PI3K/PDK-1/Akt mitogenic pathway. +SA cells were grown in culture and maintained in serum-free media containing 10 ng/ml EGF as a mitogen. Treatment with 0-8 microm gamma-tocotrienol resulted in a dose-responsive decrease in the +SA cell growth and a corresponding decrease in phospho-Akt (active) levels. However, gamma-tocotrienol treatment had no direct inhibitory effect on Akt or PI3K enzymatic activity, suggesting that the inhibitory effects of gamma-tocotrienol occur upstream of PI3K, possibly at the level of the EGF-receptor (ErbB1). Additional studies were conducted to determine the effects of gamma-tocotrienol on ErbB receptor activation. Results showed that gamma-tocotrienol treatment had little or no effect on ErbB1 or ErbB2 receptor tyrosine phosphorylation, a prerequisite for substrate interaction and signal transduction, but did cause a significant and progressive decrease in the ErbB3 tyrosine phosphorylation. Because ErbB1 or ErbB2 receptors form heterodimers with the ErbB3 receptor, and ErbB3 heterodimers have been shown to be the most potent activators of PI3K, these findings strongly suggest that the antiproliferative effects of gamma-tocotrienol in neoplastic +SA mouse mammary epithelial cells are mediated by a suppression in ErbB3-receptor tyrosine phosphorylation and subsequent reduction in PI3K/PDK-1/Akt mitogenic signalling.