The Shc gene encodes three overlapping proteins which all contain a carboxy-terminal SH2 domain. Shc proteins are ubiquitously expressed and are downstream targets and effectors of activated tyrosine kinases (TK). We investigated tyrosine-phosphorylation of Shc proteins in normal and transformed cells. In tumor cells with known TK gene alterations Shc proteins were constitutively phosphorylated and complexed with the activated TK. No constitutive Shc phosphorylation was found in primary cell cultures and normal tissues. In 14 of 27 tumor cell lines with no reported TK alterations, Shc proteins were constitutively phosphorylated and formed stable complexes with novel tyrosine-phosphorylated polypeptides. Ten distinct Shc-associated phosphoproteins were identified with molecular weights ranging from 30 to 200 kDa. In a subset of carcinoma cell lines, phosphorylated Shc proteins complexed with a p175 phosphoprotein that was identified as the constitutively activated EGFR. In one glioblastoma cell line, a Shc-associated p190 was identified as the activated PDGFR. In 13 of 14 acute leukemia samples phosphorylated Shc proteins were constitutively complexed with a p140 phosphoprotein. Some of the Shc-associated phosphoproteins (EGFR, PDGFR, erbB-2, Met, bcr-abl, H4-ret) bound both the Shc- and Grb2-SH2 domains in vitro; others (p175; p70-p80) only the Shc-SH2 domain and yet others (p140) only the Grb2-SH3 domains. These results indicate that Shc proteins are common substrates of constitutively activated TKs and that the analysis of Shc phosphorylation allow the identification of tumors with constitutive TK activation.