Defensins are a family of structurally homologous peptides contained within phagocytic cells. Although these peptides are best known for their broad spectrum antimicrobial properties, they also inhibit ACTH (corticotropin) stimulated corticosterone production, chemoattract monocytes, and lyse mammalian cells. We now report that these peptides are potent mitogens in vitro in the same concentration range that they display potent antimicrobial activity in vitro. These concentrations are in the same range as those expected to be present in vivo during the wound healing process. All defensins tested were stimulatory for epithelial cells and fibroblasts and acted synergistically with insulin. These are the first data to disclose the strong growth-promoting effects of this unique family of peptides and point to another basic mechanism whereby the macrophage and neutrophil may participate in a variety of trophic, physiologic, and pathologic processes.