Previous results have shown that tumor promoters modify the properties of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor through the activation of protein kinase C. Diacylglycerol-generating factors such as platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and p28sis should activate protein kinase C and alter EGF receptor properties in a similar manner. To test directly the involvement of protein kinase C in the action of media from v-sis-transformed cells on the EGF receptor, Swiss 3T3 cells were first extensively treated with various concentrations of the tumor-promoter phorbol dibutyrate (PDBu) This treatment reduced levels of active protein kinase C in the cells, making them less responsive to subsequent rechallenge with the tumor promoter. The results demonstrate that there are at least two components to the action of media from v-sis transformed cells on EGF binding: a labile factor that confers protein kinase C independence and a stable factor that appears to be dependent on protein kinase C. The action of the first factor cannot be mimicked by transforming growth factor-beta or EGF in either the presence or absence of PDGF. The action of the second factor is similar to that of PDGF. These findings indicate that heterologous regulation of the EGF receptor can occur through both protein kinase C-dependent and -independent pathways.