The expression of receptors for epidermal growth factor (EGF-R) was determined in 29 samples of brain tumors from 22 patients. Primary gliogenous tumors, of various degrees of cancer, five meningiomas, and two neuroblastomas were examined. Tissue samples were frozen in liquid nitrogen immediately after the operation and stored at -70 degrees until use. Cerebral tissue samples from 11 patients who died from diseases not related to the central nervous system served as controls. Immunoprecipitation of functional EGF-R-kinase complexes revealed high levels of EGF-R in all of the brain tumors of nonneuronal origin that were examined. The level of EGF-R varied between tumors from different patients and also between specimens prelevated from different areas of the same tumor. In contrast, the levels of EGF-R from control specimens were invariably low. The biochemical properties of EGF-R in brain tumor specimens were found to be indistinguishable from those of the well-characterized EGF-R from the A-431 cell line, derived from human epidermoid carcinomas. Human brain EGF-R displays a molecular weight of 170,000 by polyacrylamide-sodium dodecyl sulfate gel electrophoresis. It is phosphorylated mainly in tyrosine residues and shows a 2-dimensional phosphopeptide map similar to that obtained with the phosphorylated EGF-R from membranes of A-431 cells. Our observations suggest that induction of EGF-R expression may accompany the malignant transformation of human brain cells of nonneuronal origin.