Previous studies have shown that palytoxin, a non-(12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate)-type tumor promoter, is able to down-modulate the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor through a sodium-dependent pathway in Swiss 3T3 cells. A role for sodium is supported by the observation that the sodium proton exchanger monensin and the sodium-conducting ionophore gramicidin mimic palytoxin action by causing a decrease in both high and low affinity EGF binding. However, in addition to causing sodium influx, these agents can induce other cellular effects including changes in membrane polarization, intracellular pH, and macromolecular synthesis. To determine whether any of these factors might be responsible for palytoxin action in our system, we examined the role of each of them in palytoxin-induced inhibition of EGF binding. Although palytoxin depolarizes the membrane, the observation that potassium-induced depolarization of the membrane does not cause a decrease in EGF binding, in conjunction with the fact that monensin hyperpolarizes the membrane, indicates that depolarization of the membrane is not responsible for palytoxin-induced changes in the EGF receptor. An investigation of intra-cellular pH suggests that the palytoxin effects are not mediated by proton flux. In addition, nigericin-mediated changes in intracellular pH do not cause an inhibition of EGF binding. Finally, studies conducted in the presence of cycloheximide indicate that protein synthesis is not required for palytoxin action and that inhibition of EGF receptor biosynthesis does not account for palytoxin-induced loss of EGF-binding sites. These results suggest that sodium may act as a second messenger in the signal transduction mechanism by which palytoxin modulates the EGF receptor.