Epidermal growth factor (EGF), which can be purified from the mouse submaxillary gland or from pregnant human urine, is a potent multiplication-stimulating factor for several types of cultured cells, including human fibroblasts and glial cells. The molecule binds with high affinity and saturation kinetics to a cell-surface receptor, is subsequently internalised and finally degraded. The binding event is accompanied by a reduction in the number of EGF receptors. This phenomenon--'receptor down-regulation'--has been demonstrated with several hormones and may be a general principle for the modulation of binding groups on the outer cell surface. Further, it has been proposed that receptor loss acts to regulate the cellular response to the binding ligand. The present study provides direct experimental support for this hypothesis. It demonstrates that down-regulation of EGF receptors on glial cells causes desensitisation of the mitogenic response of these cells to subsequent stimulation with EGF.