The stimulation of DNA synthesis by epidermal growth factor (EGF) has been studied for a cell line having properties useful for investigating the mechanism of action of EGF in epithelial cell populations. These studies employ a mouse keratinocyte cell line (MK), isolated by Weissman and Aaronson (1983), which is stringently dependent on exogenous EGF for growth in serum containing medium. The studies reported here characterize the compliment of EGF receptors present on the surface of MK cells and demonstrate the regulatory influence of other hormones on the capacity of EGF to stimulate DNA synthesis. Up-regulated MK cells contain approximately 22,000 EGF receptors per cell, but when the cells are grown in the presence of EGF the receptor number is reduced to about 4,000. It is estimated that only a small number of high-affinity receptors (less than 500) are required for EGF-dependent cell proliferation. In contrast to its action in fibroblastic cells, dexamethasone is a strong inhibitor of EGF-stimulated DNA synthesis of MK cells. Insulin at high concentrations, or insulin-like growth factors I or II (IGF-I, IGF-II) at physiological concentrations, synergistically enhance the EGF response. Interestingly, insulin or IGF-I or II are also able to reverse most of the dexamethasone inhibition of DNA synthesis. Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) inhibits, in reversible manner, the EGF stimulation of DNA synthesis and this inhibition is not overcome by insulin. TGF-β receptors have been measured in MK cells and Scatchard analysis indicates approximately 20,000 receptors per cell. None of the modulatory hormones (insulin, dexamethasone, TGF-β) significantly altered 125I-EGF binding characteristics in MK cells, suggesting a point of action distal to 125I-EGF binding.