The tyrosine kinase inhibitors PD 69896, 153717, and 158780, which belong to the chemical class 4-[ar(alk)ylamino]pyridopyrimidines, have been characterized with respect to enzymology, target specificity, and antiproliferative effects in tumor cells. These compounds were competitive inhibitors with respect to ATP against purified epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor tyrosine kinase and inhibited EGF receptor autophosphorylation in A431 human epidermoid carcinoma with IC50 values of 2085, 110, and 13 nM, respectively. Onset of inhibition was immediate once cells were exposed to these compounds, whereas recovery of receptor autophosphorylation activity after the cells were washed free of the compound was dependent on inhibitory potency. Thus, full activity returned immediately after removal of PD 69896 but required 8 hr after exposure to PD 158780. PD 158780 was highly specific for the EGF receptor in Swiss 3T3 fibroblasts, inhibiting EGF-dependent receptor autophosphorylation and thymidine incorporation at low nanomolar concentrations while requiring micromolar levels for platelet-derived growth factor- and basic fibroblast growth factor-dependent processes. PD 158780 inhibited heregulin-stimulated phosphorylation in the SK-BR-3 and MDA-MB-453 breast carcinomas with IC50 values of 49 and 52 nM, respectively, suggesting that the compound was active against other members of the EGF receptor family. The antiproliferative effects of this series of compounds against A431 cells correlated precisely with the inhibitory potency against EGF receptor autophosphorylation. PD 158780 reduced clone formation in soft agar of fibroblasts transformed by EGF, EGF receptor, or the neu oncogene but not ras or raf, further demonstrating its high degree of specificity. Finally, this compound was active against clone formation in several breast tumors having different expression patterns of the erbB family, indicating an anticancer utility in tumors expressing these receptors.