Lactoferrin has been identified as the factor in human colostrum that accounts for the increased incorporation of thymidine into DNA in a rat crypt enterocyte bioassay. Commercially available infant formulas used in the refeeding of infants who have severe dietary intolerance associated with mucosal atrophy were tested in this bioassay. In contrast to human milk, no stimulation was observed with these formulas in the assay. All formulas inhibited basal thymidine incorporation. The degree of inhibition of the basal assay progressed from 14% with cow's-milk formula to 30% with soy-based formulas to 45% with hydrolyzed casein formulas. When the formulas were supplemented with lactoferrin to match the level of that in human milk, the result was a 35% relative increase in thymidine incorporation into DNA. The quantitative level of response was primarily influenced by the baseline inhibitions associated with the specific formulas. The most profound effect was observed with the hydrolyzed casein formula, when lactoferrin supplementation reversed the baseline inhibition but did not result in a response greater than that seen in control basal bioassays. The supplementation of infant formulas with lactoferrin improved the thymidine incorporation in rat crypt enterocytes; a response equivalent to that of human milk, however, would require a redesign of other formula components to reduce basal inhibition.