Epiregulin is the newest member of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) family of ligands that was isolated from conditioned medium of the murine fibroblast-derived tumour cell line NIH3T3/T7. Here, using a panel of anti-EGFR receptor (EGFR) monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) directed against 4 distinct epitopes on the external domain of the receptor, we have investigated the importance of the EGFR in transmitting the biological action of epiregulin. We found that MAb ICR9, which enhances the binding of EGF, TGF alpha, HB-EGF and betacellulin to the EGFR, also increases the binding of 125I-epiregulin to a number of EGFR-expressing tumour cell lines, including EJ, SKBR3, SKOV3, MDA-MB468 and HN5. In addition, anti-EGFR MAbs ICR15, ICR16, ICR61, ICR62 and ICR80, which block the binding of 125I-EGF to the EGFR, inhibit the binding of 125I-epiregulin to these tumour cell lines. Like EGF, we found that both the epiregulin-induced growth inhibition of HN5 and MDA-MB468 cells and tyrosine phosphorylation of the 170 kDa EGFR on HN5 cells are reversed in the presence of anti-EGFR MAbs ICR62 and ICR80. Surprisingly and unlike 125I-EGF, radiolabelled epiregulin bound very poorly to human bladder carcinoma EJ cells and its binding to SKOV3 cells was not inhibited efficiently in the presence of blocking antibodies. We conclude that the EGFR plays an important role in transmitting the biological action of epiregulin and that these effects could be blocked in the presence of anti-EGFR MAbs. The low level of binding of epiregulin compared with EGF to EJ cells suggests that the EGFR may not be the primary receptor for epiregulin.