Activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) requires cell surface cleavage of EGFR ligands, uptake of soluble ligand by the receptor, and initiation of EGFR tyrosine kinase activity. We define these collective events as the EGFR axis. Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) and amphiregulin are two EGFR ligands that are delivered preferentially to the basolateral surface of polarized epithelial cells where the EGFR resides. TACE/ADAM-17 (tumor necrosis factor-alpha converting enzyme/a disintegrin and metalloprotease) has been implicated in ectodomain cleavage of TGF-alpha and amphiregulin.