The epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor is well known as a mediator of mitogenic signaling and its tyrosine kinase activity has been suggested as a viable target in cancer chemotherapy. To explore the consequences of abolishing the kinase activity of this receptor, we have utilized a potent and specific inhibitor of the enzyme, PD 153035, to sustain a long-term suppression of its activity. This compound inhibits EGF receptor autophosphorylation in cells with an IC50 in the low nanomolar range and does not block PDGF or FGF receptor kinase until concentrations are greater than 10 microM.  Human epidermoid carcinoma A431 cells were grown in the presence of PD 153035 and were passed weekly until cells grew in the presence of 1 microM inhibitor. These cells, referred to as A431R, showed a remarkable change in morphology, becoming flattened and spread out. A comparison of the sensitivity of EGF receptor autophosphorylation to PD 153035 between A431 and A431R showed a similar dose response, indicating that the cells had not developed any defect in the kinase which might make it resistant to the inhibitor. Likewise, EGF receptor autophosphorylation in response to exogenously added EGF, as well as receptor internalization, was similar between the two cell lines. Furthermore, analysis of A431R cells by flow cytometry showed no significant change in DNA content or percentage of cells in any one phase of the cell cycle compared to the parent line. 125I-labeled EGF/receptor binding studies showed that receptor number in the A431R cells was equivalent to that of the parent line; however, the Scatchard plot was linear, in contrast to the typical biphasic plot obtained with the parent cells, implying a loss of high-affinity receptors. Cytoskeletal preparations from both cell lines indicated that the A431R had fourfold less EGF receptor associated with the cytoskeleton than A431. This was accompanied by a remarkable increase in polymerized actin stress fibers throughout the A431R cells, which most likely accounts for their flattened morphology. The A431R cells also exhibited a twofold increase in the expression of focal adhesion kinase, which is consistent with a greater contact area for their cell surface and increase in focal adhesions. Finally, although the A431R cells have a doubling time of 24 h, similar to that of the parent line, these cells stop growing as the monolayer approaches confluence, reminiscent of the contact inhibition seen in nontransformed cells. These data indicate that long-term suppression of the EGF receptor tyrosine kinase activity in A431 human epidermoid carcinoma results in certain cellular properties which are more consistent with a differentiated and nontransformed phenotype.