ErbB3 is an epidermal growth factor receptor-related type I tyrosine kinase receptor capable, in conjunction with ErbB2 or epidermal growth factor receptor, of transmitting proliferative and differentiative signals in a variety of cell types. We previously showed that ErbB3 messenger RNA and protein increase in cultured hepatocytes during the first 12 h in culture, as does the binding of heregulin beta1, a ligand for ErbB3. Insulin inhibits the increase in heregulin beta1 binding, as well as the increase in ErbB3 messenger RNA and protein. Two models of insulin deficiency in vivo (diabetes and fasting) demonstrated elevated levels of hepatic ErbB3 protein, strengthening the relevance of our observations in vitro. Using chemical activators or antagonists, we sought to identify the signaling pathways that link insulin to ErbB3 expression. The PI-3 kinase inhibitors, wortmannin and LY294002, completely blocked the inhibition of ErbB3 protein expression by insulin, suggesting a role for PI-3 kinase in the regulation of this growth factor receptor. Rapamycin, an inhibitor of p70 S6 kinase, an enzyme downstream of PI-3 kinase, failed to block the effect of insulin on ErbB3 expression. These results suggest a complex regulatory paradign for ErbB3 that includes PI-3 kinase and may be linked, via insulin, to the metabolic status of the animal.