The enterochromaffinlike cells in the rat stomach are rich in histamine and are thought to be under the influence of gastrin. The effect of sustained endogenous and exogenous hypergastrinemia on the activity and proliferation rate of the enterochromaffinlike cells was studied by determining the histidine decarboxylase activity and histamine concentration and by combining histamine immunocytochemistry and autoradiography after in vivo labeling with [3H]thymidine. The proliferation rate of the stem cells in the oxyntic mucosal progenitor zone was also studied. Exogenous hypergastrinemia was induced by infusion of rat gastrin-17 (60 nmol.kg-1.day-1). Endogenous hypergastrinemia was induced by inhibition of gastric acid secretion with omeprazole (80 mumol.kg-1.day-1) or ranitidine (1200 mumol.kg-1.day-1). The effect of omeprazole was also studied in antrectomized rats. In intact rats, all treatments resulted in elevated plasma gastrin levels and were accompanied by an increase in the histidine decarboxylase activity and the histamine content of the oxyntic mucosa. This resulted in an increase in the enterochromaffinlike cell proliferation rate, leading to enterochromaffinlike cell hyperplasia. The number of labeled stem cells was increased, but this effect was not as pronounced as in the enterochromaffinlike cells. In antrectomized rats, the inhibition of acid secretion by omeprazole did not result in elevated plasma gastrin or in an increase in the activity or number of enterochromaffinlike cells, indicating that omeprazole per se had no effect on these cells. These data support the view that gastrin stimulates the proliferation rate of both enterochromaffinlike cells and stem cells. Gastrin also stimulates the activity of the enterochromaffinlike cells.