Despite the approval of the anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), cetuximab and panitumumab, for the treatment of colorectal cancer patients, there is currently no reliable predictive marker for response to therapy. In addition, the duration of response is often limited. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the effect of afatinib, an irreversible erbB family blocker, as a single agent or in combination with cytotoxic drugs (5-fluorouracil, irinotecan and oxaliplatin) or mAb ICR62 on the proliferation of a panel of human colorectal tumour cell lines and the association between the expression levels of the EGFR family members and response to treatment. Of the cells examined, EGFR-overexpressing DiFi cells were the most sensitive to treatment with both afatinib (IC50=45 nM) and ICR62 (IC50=4.33 nM). Afatinib also inhibited the growth of other tumour cell lines with IC50 values which ranged from 0.33 µM (CCL-221) to 1.62 µM (HCT-116). A significant association was found between the co-expression of EGFR, human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER)-2 and HER-3 and response to treatment with afatinib (R=0.915, P=0.021). Treat-ment with afatinib and cytotoxic drugs was accompanied by an increase in the proportion of these cells in the sub-G0/G1 and in the S and G2/M phase of the cell cycle, respectively. We conclude that afatinib as monotherapy or in combination with other drugs shows activity in colorectal tumour cells and that determination of the co-expression of HER family members should be conducted in clinical trials using drugs targeting erbB signaling. This approach could lead to the identification of a specific subpopulation of cancer patients more likely to benefit from erbB-directed therapy.