The membrane anchored form of human heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (HB-EGF) acts as the diphtheria toxin (DT) receptor. Transfection of human HB-EGF cDNA into mouse LC cells, L cells stably expressing DRAP27, conferred sensitivity to DT, but transfection of mouse HB-EGF cDNA did not. To define the essential regions of HB-EGF that serve as the functional DT receptor, we examined the sensitivity to DT and DT binding of cells expressing several human/mouse HB-EGF chimeras. It was found that DT binds to the EGF-like domain of the human HB-EGF. However, mouse HB-EGF does not serve as a functional DT receptor due to non-conserved amino acid substitutions in this domain. In addition, CRM197, a non-toxic mutant of DT, inhibited strongly the mitogenic activity of the secreted form of human HB-EGF, but not of mouse HB-EGF and other EGF receptor-binding growth factors. These results confirmed further that DT interacts with the EGF-like domain of HB-EGF and that this interaction is specific for human HB-EGF.