The effect of starch contained in different foods on colonic proliferation was studied in C57BL/6N mice after four weeks of feeding with 20% fat diets containing cornstarch, white bread, pasta, and rice; an equicaloric amount of sucrose was used in a control diet. Cell proliferation was evaluated in different subsites of the colon (rectal end, mid colon and cecal end) by colchicine arrest and [3H]thymidine incorporation. The following parameters were analyzed: mitotic index (MI), labeling index (LI), and the distribution of labeled cells along the crypt. Different results were obtained in the different subsites. At the rectal end of the colon, all diets containing starch lowered cell proliferation compared with the sucrose diet. The values for MI in the different diets were 2.56 +/- 0.22, 1.73 +/- 0.30, 1.37 +/- 0.19, 1.61 +/- 0.29, and 1.29 +/- 0.31 for control, cornstarch, white bread, pasta, and rice, respectively. Values are means +/- SE (n = 10). The values for LI showed a similar pattern. In the mid colon, the MI was significantly lowered only by the diet containing rice, whereas the DNA synthetic activity (LI) was lowered by cornstarch, pasta, and rice. Toward the cecal end, we observed a significant reduction in MI with diets containing pasta and rice and in the LI with diets containing pasta. The distribution of the LI along the crypt in the different subsites was not significantly affected by experimental dietary variations. The results suggest that starch from different dietary sources might reduce colon proliferation in the mouse.