The pleiotrophin (PTN) gene (Ptn) is a potent proto-oncogene that is highly expressed in many primary human tumors and constitutively expressed in cell lines derived from these tumors. The product of the Ptn gene is a secreted 136-amino acid heparin binding cytokine with distinct lysine-rich clusters within both the N- and C-terminal domains. To seek domains of PTN functionally important in neoplastic transformation, we constructed a series of mutants and tested their transforming potential by four independent criteria. Our data establish that a domain within PTN residues 41 to 64 and either but not both the N- or C-terminal domains are required for transformation; deletion of both the N and C termini abolishes the transformation potential of PTN. Furthermore, deletion of two internal 5-amino acid residue repeats enhances the transformation potency of PTN 2-fold. Our data indicate that PTN residues 41-64 contain an essential domain for transformation and suggest the hypothesis that this domain requires an additional interaction of the highly basic clusters of the N or C terminus of PTN with a negatively charged "docking" site to enable the transforming domain itself to engage and initiate PTN signaling through its cognate receptor.