PURPOSE: To determine the order and components of the signaling pathway utilized by epidermal growth factor (EGF) to stimulate conjunctival goblet cell proliferation. METHODS: Goblet cells from rat bulbar and forniceal conjunctiva and human bulbar conjunctiva were grown in organ culture. Goblet cells (GCs) were serum starved for 24 hours and preincubated with inhibitors for 30 minutes or small interfering RNA (siRNA) for 48 hours prior to addition of EGF. Proliferation was then measured or Western blot analysis was performed using antibodies against phosphorylated protein kinase B (AKT), extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), or the non-receptor tyrosine kinase Src. Rat GCs were also incubated with adenoviruses expressing dominant negative protein kinase Cα (DNPKCα) or constitutively activated protein kinase Cα (myrPKCα), and activation of AKT and ERK1/2 was determined by Western blot analysis. RESULTS: Inhibitors of phosphoinositol-3 kinase (PI-3K)/AKT pathway blocked EGF-stimulated ERK1/2 activation and GC proliferation. Inhibitors of EGF-stimulated ERK1/2 activity did not inhibit AKT activation but blocked proliferation. DNPKCα blocked EGF-stimulated activation of AKT and ERK1/2 while myrPKCα increased activation of these kinases. Inhibitors of PI-3K, ERK1/2, and protein kinase C (PKC) blocked myrPKCα-stimulated GC proliferation. EGF and myrPKCα increased phosphorylation of Src, and inhibition of Src with the chemical inhibitor PP1 or siRNA inhibited EGF-stimulated GC proliferation. CONCLUSIONS: We found that EGF activates a major pathway to stimulate goblet cell proliferation. This pathway consists of induction of phospholipase C (PLC)γ to activate PKCα. Active PKCα phosphorylates Src to induce PI-3K to phosphorylate AKT that subsequently activates the ERK1/2 cascade to stimulate goblet cell proliferation.