Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and tumour growth factor alpha (TGFα) are frequently overexpressed in renal cell carcinoma (RCC) yet responses to single-agent EGFR inhibitors are uncommon. Although von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) mutations are predominant, RCC also develops in individuals with tuberous sclerosis (TSC). Tuberous sclerosis mutations activate mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and biochemically resemble VHL alterations. We found that RCC cell lines expressed EGFR mRNA in the near-absence of other ErbB family members. Combined EGFR and mTOR inhibition synergistically impaired growth in a VHL-dependent manner. Iressa blocked ERK1/2 phosphorylation specifically in wt-VHL cells, whereas rapamycin inhibited phospho-RPS6 and 4E-BPI irrespective of VHL. In contrast, phospho-AKT was resistant to these agents and MYC translation initiation (polysome binding) was similarly unaffected unless AKT was inhibited. Primary RCCs vs cell lines contained similar amounts of phospho-ERK1/2, much higher levels of ErbB-3, less phospho-AKT, and no evidence of phospho-RPS6, suggesting that mTOR activity was reduced. A subset of tumours and cell lines expressed elevated elF4E in the absence of upstream activation. Despite similar amounts of EGFR mRNA, cell lines (vs tumours) overexpressed EGFR protein. In the paired cell lines, PRC3 and WT8, EGFR protein was elevated post-transcriptionally in the VHL mutant and EGF-stimulated phosphorylation was prolonged. We propose that combined EGFR and mTOR inhibitors may be useful in the subset of RCCs with wt-VHL. However, apparent differences between primary tumours and cell lines require further investigation. © 2005 Cancer Research UK.