We have previously demonstrated trophic effects of gastrin on mouse colon cancer (MC-26) cells, in vivo, and demonstrated the presence of gastrin receptors (GR) on these cells. The cellular and intracellular mechanism by which gastrin expresses trophic effects on colon cancer cells is, however, as yet unknown. For us to start investigating the possible mechanisms involved, it was important that we first develop an in vitro model, in which gastrin expresses its trophic effects directly on the MC-26 cells. The growth-promoting effects of gastrin on the MC-26 cells were examined in various in vitro culture models, in terms of [3H]thymidine incorporation and cell number. A significant trophic effect of gastrin could be demonstrated on quiescent cells in culture, in the absence of serum. The optimal cell-culture conditions for observing trophic effects of gastrin were defined and included a 24-h period of rapid growth of MC-26 cells in serum-supplemented normal growth medium, followed by a 24-h period of culture in serum-free medium containing an optimal dose (1.0 mM) of thymidine, to achieve growth-arrest of the cells. Addition of gastrin (0.5 to 25 nM) to the quiescent, growth-arrested cells resulted in significant dose-dependent increases in both the incorporation of [3H]thymidine uptake by the cells, and a significant increase in cell number. The concentration of GR on the growth-arrested quiescent MC-26 cells in culture was significantly increased compared to the GR concentration on the control, asynchronized cells. The increased presence of GR on the growth-arrested, synchronized MC-26 cells may have allowed us to observe a significant trophic effect of gastrin on the MC-26 cells, in vitro itself. To determine if gastrin was functioning as an autocrine growth factor for MC-26 cells, we examined the effect of gastrin antibodies on the growth of MC-26 cells; no significant effect of the antigastrin IgG on the growth of MC-26 cells was observed.