Epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor-overexpression is characteristic of many human tumours of epithelial origin and has been correlated with unfavourable patient prognosis. Its involvement in the malignant process, its elevated expression in tumours and its accessibility on the tumour cell surface make the EGF receptor a potential target for directed tumour therapy. We have previously characterized a recombinant antibody - Pseudomonas exotoxin A fusion protein, scFv(225)-ETA, which displayes antitumoral activity towards EGF receptor-overexpressing tumour cells but is less potent in tumour cell killing than TGF-alpha-ETA, a recombinant toxin using the natural EGF receptor ligand transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-alpha) as a targeting domain. Here, we describe the construction and functional characterization in vitro of a novel single-chain antibody-toxin, scFv(14E1)-ETA, based on the independently isolated EGF receptor-specific monoclonal antibody 14E1. ScFv(14E1)-ETA binds to an EGF receptor epitope that is very similar or identical to that of scFv(225)-ETA with nine times higher affinity than the latter and displays more than tenfold higher cytotoxic activity on EGF receptor-overexpressing tumour cells. ScFv(14E1)-ETA cell killing activity was very similar to that of TGF-alpha-ETA on receptor-overexpressing cells but, in contrast to the latter, scFv(14E1)-ETA was much more selective and did not display significant cytotoxic activity on cells expressing moderate EGF receptor levels.