Cultured NIH 3T3 cells devoid of endogenous EGF receptors were transfected with cDNA constructs encoding either the human EGF receptor or an EGF receptor mutant in which Lys721, a key residue in the ATP binding site, was replaced with an alanine residue. The mutant receptor was properly processed, and it displayed both high- and low-affinity surface binding sites. Unlike the wild-type receptor, the mutant receptor did not possess intrinsic protein-tyrosine kinase activity. The initial rate of EGF internalization was similar for wild-type and mutant EGF receptors. Surprisingly, the mutant receptors were not down regulated, but appeared to recycle in transfected cells. These data suggest that degradation of normal EGF receptors after endocytosis is due to the kinase activity endogenous to this receptor. A single amino acid substitution rendered a "down-regulated" receptor into a receptor that can recycle from cytoplasmic compartment back to the cell surface.