The response of malignant and nonmalignant human breast cell lines to the growth inhibitory effects of monoclonal antibodies against the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor was studied. A series of human breast cell lines, which express EGF receptor, were used: MDA-468, MDA-231, and Hs578T human breast cancer cells and the transformed human mammary epithelial cell lines 184A1N4 and 184A1N4-T that have been benzo[a]pyrene immortalized and further transformed with SV40T, respectively. Four antibodies of two different classes were tested: 225 immunoglobulin G (IgG), 108.4 IgG, 96 immunoglobulin M (IgM), and 42 IgM. All four antibodies inhibited the anchorage-dependent and -independent, EGF-stimulated growth of 184A1N4 and 184A1N4-T cells, respectively, and this growth inhibition could be reversed by the addition of increasing concentrations of EGF. In contrast, the antibodies inhibited the anchorage-dependent and -independent growth of MDA-468 cells in the absence of exogenous EGF suggesting that the antibodies were acting to block access of an endogenously produced ligand to the EGF receptor. In the presence of antibody and increasing concentrations of EGF, MDA-468 cell growth was first stimulated then inhibited as the EGF concentration increased, thus, uncovering the growth stimulatory potential of low concentrations of EGF in these cells. Data is presented that indicates MDA-468 cells secrete a transforming growth factor with autocrine growth stimulatory capabilities. The growth of MDA-231 and Hs578T cells, which contain activated ras oncogenes, was not inhibited by the antibodies and the growth of these cell lines was not stimulated by EGF. Of the cell lines studied only MDA-468 cells appear to possess an autocrine growth stimulatory capacity.