Activation of the EGF receptor tyrosine kinase by ligand indirectly activates a series of other cellular enzymes, including protein kinase C. To test the hypothesis that phosphorylation of the EGF receptor by protein kinase C provides an intracellular negative feedback loop to attenuate EGF receptor signaling, we used scanning EM to follow the characteristic EGF-induced retraction of lamellipodia and concomitant cell shape changes. Wild type and mutant EGF receptors were expressed in receptor-deficient NR6 cells. The mutant receptors were prepared by truncation at C' terminal residue 973 (c'973) to provide resistance to ligand-induced down regulation that strongly attenuates receptor signaling and by replacement of threonine 654 (T654) with alanine (A654) to remove the site of phosphorylation by protein kinase C. Cells expressing WT and c'973 EGF receptors demonstrated characteristic lamellipodial retraction after exposure to EGF, with the non-down regulating c'973 EGF receptors responding more rapidly. Exposure of cells to TPA blocked this response. Replacement of T654 by alanine resulted in EGF receptors that were resistant to TPA. Cells expressing the A654 mutation underwent more rapid and more extensive morphologic changes than cells with the corresponding T654 EGF receptor. In cells expressing T654 EGF receptors, down regulation of protein kinase C resulted in more rapid and extensive EGF-induced changes similar to those seen in cells expressing A654 EGF receptors. These data indicate that activation of protein kinase C and subsequent phosphorylation of the EGF receptor at T654 lead to rapid physiological attenuation of EGF receptor signaling.