TFF3 (trefoil factor family 3), which is a major secretory product of the gastric antrum and the intestine, but which is nearly absent in the gastric corpus, plays a key role in the maintenance of mucosal integrity. Here, we have systematically investigated TFF3 expression in the esophagus and gastric cardia by the use of reverse transcription/polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis and immunohistochemistry. Synthesis of TFF3, but not TFF1 or TFF2, is detectable in esophageal submucosal glands. The stratified squamous epithelium is devoid of TFF synthesis. Prominent TFF3 expression starts at the Z-line with a sharply decreasing gradient toward the cardia. Immunohistochemistry has localized TFF3 to surface mucous cells of the proximal cardia. TFF3 distribution differs characteristically from that of TFF1 (secreted primarily by superficial surface mucous cells), whereas TFF3, together with the mucin MUC5AC, is also found in deeper lying cells toward the isthmus. This is the first report of TFF3 as a typical secretory peptide of esophageal submucosal glands and gastric cardia. The different expression patterns of TFF3 and TFF1 in the cardia suggest a stepwise maturation of surface mucous cells from TFF3/MUC5AC-positive cells close to the isthmus to TFF1/TFF3/MUC5AC-positive cells at the pit. The gradient of TFF3 expression along the gastric rostro-caudal axis defines two types of gastric pit cells: those secreting TFF3 in the cardia and the antrum and those nearly devoid of TFF3 synthesis in the corpus. This indicates the special requirement, particularly of the esophagogastric junction, for TFF3-triggered protection and repair.