Neuregulin-1 (NRG-1) proteins promote Schwann cell survival, differentiation and proliferation during development. High levels of an NRG-like activity are also present in some human peripheral nerve sheath tumors, suggesting that NRG-1 isoforms may be involved in the development of these neoplasms. We examined the expression of NRG-1 and its receptors, the erbB membrane tyrosine kinases, in JS1 cells, a rapidly proliferating line derived from a chemically induced rat malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST). Relative to nontransformed Schwann cells, JS1 cells overexpress the NRG-1 receptor erbB3 and its erbB2 coreceptor; JS1 erbB2 transcripts show no evidence of the activating mutation commonly found in N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea-induced neoplasms. JS1 cells do not express the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a kinase implicated in the pathogenesis of a major subset of MPNSTs. JS1 cells also express mRNAs encoding multiple α and β isoforms from the glial growth factor and sensory and motor neuron-derived factor NRG-1 subfamilies. Stimulation with NRG-1β in the presence of forskolin produces a dose-dependent increase in JS1 DNA synthesis. Even in unstimulated JS1 cells, however, erbB2 and erbB3 are constitutively tyrosine phosphorylated. Reducing this constitutive phosphorylation with the specific erbB inhibitor PD158780 markedly impairs JS1 DNA synthesis. These observations support the hypothesis that NRG-1 isoforms and erbB kinases act in an autocrine and/or paracrine fashion to promote mitogenesis in JS1 cells. The absence of EGFR expression in JS1 cells suggests that constitutive activation of the NRG-1/erbB signaling pathway is an alternative means of inducing Schwann cell neoplasia. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.