The objective of the present study was to determine the frequency of amplifications of three different members of the erbB gene family in human glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). We investigated 47 glial tumors (37 GBM WHO grade IV, 5 anaplastic astrocytomas WHO III and 5 astrocytomas WHO II) by Southern and Western analysis, and immunocytochemistry. Gene amplification of erbB genes in human malignant gliomas was restricted to the EGF receptor (EGFR) gene, erbB-1. We found amplification of the EGFR gene in 49% (18/37) of GBM but not in the astrocytomas WHO II/III. The erbB-2 and erbB-3 genes showed no amplification in the tumor specimens investigated in this study. At the protein level we found overexpression of the EGF receptor in 86% (32/37) by Western analysis and in 92% (34/37) by immunocytochemistry. Expression of the ERBB2 protein was present in 54% (20/37) but immunoreactivity was much weaker than for EGF receptor and in most cases barely detectable by Western analysis and immunocytochemistry. The ERBB3 protein was not expressed in the glial tumors investigated in this study. Of the three erbB genes only gene amplification and overexpression of the EGF receptor seems to have an impact on tumor progression of human gliomas. Our data from immunohistochemistry indicate that ERBB2 expression in GBM is closely correlated with EGF receptor levels and is therefore not useful as an independent prognostic parameter.