The role of growth factors in gastrointestinal cell proliferation.


Department of Histopathology, Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London, W12 0NN


The epithelial lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is in a state of continuous cell renewal, and the proliferating and differentiating/differentiated cell populations are spatially clearly demarcated. Members of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) family of peptides, the trefoil peptides and enteroglucagon appear to be the most important enterotrophic molecules for both normal cell renewal and healing after cell damage. Transforming growth factor-a (TGF-a) appears to be the primary physiological ligand for the EGF receptor (EGFR), promoting normal cell renewal, and TGF-a/EGFR are part of an autocrine loop in many intestinal cancers. In response to damage, a differentiating cell lineage arises from adjacent epithelium secreting EGF, TGF-a and trefoil peptides; this may be viewed as part of a ‘repair kit’ in damaged endodermally-derived tissue.