Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) exerts its biologic activities through binding to specific high-affinity cell surface receptors. After binding, the ligand/receptor complex is rapidly internalized in most hematopoietic cells. Using a human factor- dependent cell line, MO7, and normal human neutrophils, we found that the internalization is exquisitely temperature-dependent, such that ligand/receptor internalization does not detectably occur at 4 degrees C. Activation of the GM-CSF receptor has previously been shown to stimulate a number of postreceptor signal transduction pathways, including activation of a tyrosine kinase and activation of the serine/threonine kinase, Raf-1. The GM-CSF-stimulated increase in tyrosine kinase activity occurs rapidly at both 4 degrees C and 37 degrees C, and therefore is likely to be independent of receptor internalization. At 37 degrees C, the protein tyrosine phosphorylation was transient in MO7 cells, with maximum phosphorylation observed after 5 to 15 minutes, followed by a rapid decline. At 4 degrees C, the protein tyrosine phosphorylation of the same substrates was greater than at 37 degrees C, and no decline in substrate phosphorylation was observed for at least 90 minutes. In contrast to tyrosine phosphorylation, the activation and hyper-phosphorylation of Raf-1 observed at 37 degrees C in both MO7 cells and neutrophils was markedly diminished at 4 degrees C. These results indicate that at least one postreceptor signal transduction mechanism, activation of a tyrosine kinase, does not require ligand/receptor internalization, and indicate that receptor internalization may be a consequence, rather than the initiator, of signal transduction.