Recent evidence indicates that reactive oxygen species (RES) may function as intracellular messengers in receptor signaling pathways. The possible role of ROS in epidermal growth factor (EGF) signaling was therefore investigated. Stimulation of A431 human epidermoid carcinoma cells with EGF resulted in a transient increase in the intracellular concentration of ROS, measured with the oxidation-sensitive fluorescent probe 2',7'- dichlorofluorescin diacetate and laser-scanning confocal microscopy. The predominant Res produced appeared to be H2O2, because the EGF-induced increase in fluorescence was completely abolished by incorporation of catalase into the cells by electroporation. The elimination of H2O2 by catalase also inhibited the EGF-induced tyrosine phosphorylation of various cellular proteins including the EGF receptor and phospholipase C-γ1. The dependence of H2O2 production on the intrinsic tyrosine kinase activity of the EGF receptor and the autophosphorylation sites located in its COOH- terminal tall was investigated. EGF failed to induce H2O2 generation in cells expressing a kinase-inactive EGF receptor. However, normal H2O2 generation was observed in cells expressing a mutant receptor from which the 126 COOH-terminal amine acids had been deleted to remove four (out of the total of five) autophosphorylation sites. These results suggest that EGF- induced H2O2 formation requires the kinase activity but probably not the autophosphorylation sites of the EGF receptor and that inhibition of protein tyrosine phosphatase activity by H2O2 may be required for EGF-induced protein tyrosine phosphorylation to be manifested.