The levels of gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) were studied in normal, morphologically altered and morphologically transformed colonies formed in the Syrian hamster embryo (SHE) cell transformation assay. The colonies were selected from non-exposed dishes or dishes exposed to 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA, 0.16 microM), di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP, 77 microM), Na-orthovanadate (vanadate, 3.4 microM) or dieldrin (25 microM) for 7 days during colony formation. TPA, DEHP and vanadate induced increased frequencies of morphological transformation of colonies. At the same time, TPA and DEHP decreased GJIC in the colonies by approximately 30% under the conditions used. All categories of colonies were equally affected. Vanadate did not change the level of GJIC in any of the categories of colonies compared to unexposed control. Dieldrin strongly suppressed GJIC in all colonies without increasing the frequency of transformation. The compounds affected GJIC after short-term exposures (4 and 24 h) to cell monolayers rather similarly to that found after long-term exposure to the colonies. Transformation assays with coexposure of dieldrin together with the transforming agents vanadate, DEHP or benzo[a]pyrene did not increase transformation frequencies compared to the transforming agents alone. The GJIC level in all coexposure groups was similar to that of dieldrin alone. Furthermore, regardless of whether dieldrin was present or not, removal of vanadate 24 h before fixation of the colonies caused a slight decrease in the transformation frequency. The results suggest that: (i) morphologically transformed colonies have the same ability of intercellular communication as normal colonies; (ii) decreased GJIC is probably not either sufficient or necessary to induce transformation of SHE cell colonies; (iii) a decreased level of GJIC does not necessarily increase the susceptibility of SHE cells for transformation; and (iv) inhibition of GJIC may not have an impact on the maintenance of the transformed phenotype of SHE cell colonies.