Geldanamycin belongs to the family of benzoquinoid ansamycin tyrosine-kinase inhibitors. We have examined its effects on Her-2/neu kinase activity, protein expression level, and proliferation of Her-2+ malignant cells. In SK-BR-3 breast-cancer cells, short-time treatment with geldanamycin completely abrogated gp30-ligand-induced activation of Her-2 without a change of receptor-expression level. Longer treatment of intact cells with geldanamycin induced decreased steady-state Her-2 autophosphorylation activity, which correlated with reduction of Her-2 protein expression and phosphotyrosine content of several proteins. The decrease was time- and dose-dependent, starting after 1 hr at 100 nM concentration and reaching completion by 24 hr. The reduction of the Her-2 protein level probably resulted from increased degradation, since the Her-2 mRNA level remained constant. Geldanamycin effects were not specific for Her-2, since the non-receptor tyrosine-kinase fyn was inhibited equally. In contrast to these results, protein-kinase-C activity was not affected. In 3 other malignant cell lines expressing different amounts of Her-2 (SK-BR-3 > SK-OV-3 > OVCAR3 > MCF7), geldanamycin also effectively reduced Her-2-kinase activity proportionally to the decrease of protein expression. In contrast, in a [3H]-thymidine-uptake assay, cell growth was meaningfully inhibited by geldanamycin at nanomolar concentrations only in SK-BR-3 (IC50 2 nM) and MCF7 (IC50 20 nM), while OVCAR3 was only moderately sensitive (IC50 2 microM) and SK-OV-3 was clearly resistant to geldanamycin. In direct comparison with herbimycin A, another benzoquinoid ansamycin that has been more thoroughly characterized, the biologic effects of geldanamycin were more pronounced.