The epidermal growth factor receptor is a receptor tyrosine kinase expressed in a range of tissues and cell-types. Activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor by a number of ligands induces downstream signalling that modulates critical cell functions including growth, survival and differentiation. Abnormal epidermal growth factor receptor expression and activation is also involved in a number of cancers. In addition to its cognate ligands, the epidermal growth factor receptor can be activated by metals such as zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu). Due to the important role of these metals in a number of diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, therapeutic approaches are being developed based on the use of lipid permeable metal-complexing molecules. While these agents are showing promising results in animal models and clinical trials, little is known about the effects of metal-ligand complexes on cell signalling pathways. In this study, we investigated the effects of clioquinol (CQ)-metal complexes on activation of epidermal growth factor receptor. We show here that CQ-Cu complexes induced potent epidermal growth factor receptor phosphorylation resulting in downstream activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase. Similar levels of epidermal growth factor receptor activation were observed with alternative lipid permeable metal-ligands including neocuproine and pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate. We found that CQ-Cu complexes induced a significant reduction in the level of extracellular Abeta1-40 in cell culture. Inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor activation by PD153035 blocked extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation and restored Abeta1-40 levels. Activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor by CQ-Cu was mediated through up-regulation of src kinase activity by a cognate ligand-independent process involving membrane integrins. These findings provide the first evidence that metal-ligand complexes can activate the epidermal growth factor receptor with potentially neuroprotective effects.