Epidermal growth factor (EGF) rapidly stimulates receptor autophosphorylation in A-431 cells. After 1 min the phosphorylated receptor can be identified at the plasma membrane using an anti-phosphotyrosine antibody. With further incubation at 37 degrees C, approximately 50% of the phosphorylated EGF receptor was internalized (t1/2 = 5 min) and associated with the tubulovesicular system and later with multivesicular bodies, but not the nucleus. During this period, there was no change in the extent or sites of phosphorylation. At all times the phosphotyrosine remained on the cytoplasmic side of the membrane, opposite to the EGF ligand identified by anti-EGF antibody. These data indicate that (a) the tyrosine-phosphorylated EGF receptor is internalized in its activated form providing a mechanism for translocation of the receptor kinase to substrates in the cell interior; (b) the internalized receptor remains intact for at least 60 min, does not associate with the nucleus, and does not generate any tyrosine-phosphorylated fragments; and (c) tyrosine phosphorylation alone is not the signal for receptor internalization.

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