Urocortin is a newly identified member of the CRF neuropeptide family. Urocortin has been found to bind with high affinity to CRF receptors. The present study investigated urocortin and CRF receptor expression in human colonic mucosa. Non-pathologic sections of adult colorectal tissues were obtained from patients with colorectal cancer at surgery. Urocortin expression was examined using immunohistochemistry and messenger (m) RNA in situ hybridization. Isolated lamina propria mononuclear cells (LPMC) and epithelial cells were also analyzed by flow cytometry for the characterization of urocortin-positive cells, and by RT-PCR for detection of urocortin, CRF, and CRF receptor mRNA. Urocortin peptide distribution at various stages of human development (n = 35, from 11 weeks of gestation to 6 years of age) was examined by immunohistochemistry using surgical and autopsy specimens. Immunoreactive urocortin and urocortin mRNA were predominantly detected in lamina propria macrophages. Urocortin peptide expression was detected from as early as three months of age, but not before birth or in neonates. Urocortin, CRF receptor type 1 and type 2 alpha mRNA were detected in LPMC. CRF receptor type 2 beta mRNA, a minor isoform in human tissues, was also detected in LPMC, but at lower levels. Urocortin is locally synthesized in lamina propria macrophages and may act on lamina propria inflammatory cells as an autocrine/paracrine regulator of the mucosal immune system. The appearance of urocortin after birth indicates that the exposure to dietary intake and/or luminal bacteria after birth may contribute to the initiation of urocortin expression in human gastrointestinal tract mucosa.