Many cell types display two classes of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) as judged from EGF binding studies; i.e., a major class of low affinity EGFR and a minor class of high affinity EGFR. We have studied their respective contribution to the cascade of events elicited by EGF in human A431 carcinoma cells, using anti-EGFR mAb 2E9. This antibody specifically blocks EGF binding to low affinity EGFR, without activating receptors in intact cells, and thus enables us to study the effects of exclusive EGF binding to high affinity EGFR. We show that blocking of low affinity EGFR by mAb 2E9 has almost no effect on the activation of the receptor protein-tyrosine kinase by EGF, suggesting that EGFR kinase activation occurs exclusively through the subclass of high affinity EGFR (5-10%). In addition, we provide evidence that high affinity EGFR exists both in monomeric and dimeric forms, and that cross-phosphorylation of low affinity EGFR by high affinity EGFR may take place in dimers of both receptor types. We demonstrate that the following early cellular response to EGF are also unimpaired in the presence of mAb 2E9: (a) inositol phosphate production, (b) release of Ca2+ from intracellular stores, (c) rise in intracellular pH, (d) phosphorylation of EGF on threonine residue 654, (e) induction of c-fos gene expression, and (f) alteration in cell morphology. As possible nonspecific side effects, we observed that the EGF induced Ca2+ influx and fluid-phase pinocytosis were inhibited in A431 cells in the presence of mAb 2E9. We conclude, therefore, that the activation of the EGFR signal transduction cascade can occur completely through exclusive binding of EGF to the subclass of high affinity EGFR.

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