BACKGROUND: The role that exogenous transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) may exert on cell proliferation in vivo is poorly understood. AIM: To investigate the effect of rat TGF-alpha on epithelial cell proliferation in all suckling rat digestive tissues and to compare it with that of rat epidermal growth factor (EGF). ANIMAL AND METHODS: TGF-alpha and EGF were given three times daily either subcutaneously (10 or 20 micrograms/kg) or intraperitoneally (100 micrograms/kg) to rats from the ninth postnatal day. Cell proliferation was assessed through 5-bromo- 2-deoxyuridine incorporation and estimation of labelling indices. RESULTS: For both growth factors, the highest dose given for only two days significantly increased stomach and intestinal weights compared with controls (p < 0.05 to p < 0.001). The proliferative responded depended on the dose given, colonic mucosa being the most sensitive whereas oxyntic mucosa remained unresponsive. TGF-alpha was as potent as EGF in stimulating epithelial cell proliferation in antral, duodenal, and colonic mucosae. However, EGF was more active on oesophageal and jejunal cell proliferation whereas TGF-alpha was more active on pancreatic exocrine cell proliferation and the differences between the two growth factor treated groups were significant. CONCLUSIONS: These results prove for the first time the stimulating effect in vivo of exogenous rat TGF-alpha on epithelial cell proliferation in rat digestive tissues during the developmental period and support a functional role for TGF-alpha at that time.
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