The activation of autocrine loops involving proto-oncogene related receptor tyrosine kinases has led to the analysis of a large number of growth factor systems in human glioma specimens and cell lines. The ErbB-2 system, also called HER-2 or neu, is analogous to the epidermal growth factor receptor system (EGF-R, ErbB-1). Neuregulins consist of a large family of proteins arising from alternative mRNA splicing of a single gene located at 8p22-p11. Activation of ErbB-2 by neuregulins occurs in heterodimeric complexes with ErbB-3 and ErbB-4. A panel of human glioma cell lines, which had previously been analyzed for ErbB-2 expression, was examined for ErbB-3 and ErbB-4 expression. Coordinate expression of ErbB-2, -3 or -4 was not observed in these cell lines. Despite the presence of a complete system capable of signaling in about half the cell lines, no constitutive activation of ErbB-2, -3 or -4 was observed, and autophosphorylation of ErbB-2 in response to heregulin was observed only in one cell line from the panel, NCE-G84. Moreover, the addition of recombinant heregulin or antibodies capable of disrupting ErbB-2/ErbB-3 complexes had no effect on cell proliferation. We conclude that the role of neuregulins and its receptors in the control of glioma cell proliferation may be limited or may be context dependent on in situ conditions which are lost in vitro. Alternatively, neuregulins may be involved in cell differentiation or survival in the central nervous system. Data supporting these conclusions are described in more detail herein.