Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) concentrations were measured in lung, brain, liver, and kidney of rats at three different ages (20 days gestation and 9 and 50 days postnatal). TGF-alpha concentrations were maximal in the lung and brain by 20 days of gestation and showed minimal changes during nursing (day 9) and young adulthood (day 50). The liver, which also showed maximal TGF-alpha concentration by 20 days of gestation, demonstrated a progressive reduction with age to nadir values in the young adult. In contrast to the pattern in other tissues, kidney had the lowest concentration of TGF-alpha in late gestation and showed an increase by 50 days of age. As TGF-alpha acts via the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor, its function in development may be analogous to that of EGF. Thus TGF-alpha may have a role in lung maturation and postinjury repair, liver repair and regeneration, and neuronal cell growth.