The transforming capacity of the normal and mutant human EGF receptor (EGFR) was investigated in primary chicken cells. In fibroblasts, both N- and C-terminal truncations resulted in a weak, additive oncogenic activity. However, not even double truncations caused a v-erbB-like phenotype. Upon EGF-binding, on the other hand, both normal and C-terminally truncated EGFRs resembled v-erbB in their fibroblast transforming potential. In erythroblasts, N-terminal truncation was sufficient to induce constitutive self-renewal, which was enhanced by deletion of 32 C-terminal amino acids but abolished by a larger truncation of 202 amino acids. In contrast to the normal EGFR, the receptor lacking 32 C-terminal amino acids resembled v-erbB in conferring erythropoietin independence for spontaneous differentiation to the transformed erythroblasts. Our results indicate that the C-terminal domain of the EGFR is non-essential in fibroblast transformation, but seems to be crucial for both self renewal induction and specificity of receptor function in erythroblasts.