Bone marrow MSCs (mesenchymal stem cells) can differentiate into various tissue cells, including epithelial cells. This presents interesting possibilities for cellular therapy, but the differentiation efficiency of MSCs is very low. We have explored specific inducing factors to improve the epithelial differentiation efficiency of MSCs. Under inducing conditions, MSCs differentiated into epithelial cells and expressed several airway epithelial markers using RTE (rat tracheal epithelial) cell secretions. Rat cytokine antibody array was used to detect cytokines of the RTE secretion components, in which 32 kinds of protein were found. Seven proteins [TRAIL (tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), TGFβ1 (transforming growth factor β1), MMP-2 (metalloproteinases-2), OPN (osteopontin) and activin A in RTE secretions] were assayed using ELISA kits. The four growth factors (VEGF, BDNF, TGFβ1 and activin A) were involved in regulating stem cell growth and differentiation. We speculated that these four play a vital role in the differentiation of MSCs into epithelial cells by triggering appropriate signalling pathways. To induce epithelial differentiation, MSCs were cultured using VEGF, BDNF, TGFβ1 and activin A. Differentiated MSCs were characterized both morphologically and functionally by their capacity to express specific markers for epithelial cells. The data demonstrated that MSCs can differentiate into epithelial cells induced by these growth factors.