Astrocytic neoplasms show a high incidence of elevated or mutated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) expression. Although proliferative effects from EGFR activation are well described, the role that changes in this receptor play in glioma growth and migration remain poorly addressed. This report characterizes changes in the levels of EGFR expression in three glial tumors at initial presentation (resection) and at the time of recurrence. By quantitative flow cytometry the mean level of EGFR expression increased, decreased, or remained the same in different recurrent astrocytomas relative to their primary tumor cells. Immunocytochemistry for EGFR on monolayer cells corroborated the level of expression in the recurrent tumors relative to their matched primary specimen. Immunoprecipitation indicated that 170 kd EGFR was expressed in each of the tumors, and showed normal down regulation following treatment with EGF. Proliferation response to EGF was seen in only 1/6 instances, but was concentration-dependent when observed. Stimulated migration of the cells was frequently seen and was also concentration-dependent on EGF; the magnitude of response was related to the relative level of 170 kd EGFR expression in the cells. EGFR immunostaining of tissue sections from the tumors confirmed the levels of EGFR expressed in primary and recurrent astrocytomas as was seen in the cultured cells. These results indicate that the relative levels of EGFR in early passage cell cultures from glioma specimens concurs with the measured tissue levels of expression. Human glioma cells are more responsive to migration induction than proliferation induction by EGF.