Recombinant human tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha decreased the expression of ERBB2 mRNA by stimulating p55 TNF receptors of pancreatic tumor cells. This decrease contrasts with an increase in epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mRNA. Both effects were selectively achieved by TNF-alpha or -beta, whereas interferon alpha or gamma or transforming growth factor beta showed no such effects. The inverse regulatory effects of TNF on ERBB2 and EGFR mRNA levels were evoked by different signaling pathways of p55 TNF receptors. The TNF-mediated ERBB2 mRNA decrease was followed by a reduction in protein. Four of five pancreatic tumor cell lines exhibited this down-regulation. This decrease of ERBB2 is a singular example of a modulation of this growth factor receptor by TNF. Overexpression of ERBB2 has been reported to cause resistance to TNF and other cytotoxic cytokines. In our study we show that the TNF-mediated down-regulation of ERBB2 in pancreatic tumor cells is accompanied by an increase in growth inhibition at low doses of TNF. The simultaneous alteration of the ERBB2/EGFR balance by TNF represents a striking model of cytokine receptor transregulation in the growth control of malignant pancreatic epithelial cells.