We investigated the production, binding to cell membranes, and influence on cell proliferation of peptides and growth factors in 4 classic, 5 transitional, and 5 variant SCLC cell lines. Glucagon, neurotensin, and TGF-alpha were present in all cell lines. Bombesin was predominantly found in classic cell lines and insulin in variant cell lines. Neurokinin A, calcitonin, CGRP, GHRF, somatostatin, and CNTF were detectable in some cell lines without prevalence for a particular cell type. We could not detect AVP, growth hormone, neuropeptide Y, substance P, VIP, and NGF. Insulin binding sites were present on 11/14 cell lines, and some cell lines specifically bound bombesin, calcitonin, and EGF. Growth effects were detectable for insulin, GRP-related peptides, tachykinins, and VIP. Using serum-free conditions, insulin and VIP had a growth stimulating effect in liquid culture at nanomolar concentrations. Bombesin and neuromedin B stimulated the clonal growth at a concentration of 3-30 nM. The tachykinins neurokinin A, neurokinin B, physalaemin, and eledoisin inhibited the clonal and mass culture growth with a peak effect in the range of 0.1 to 10 pM. Peptide-induced stimulating and inhibiting effects were within a magnitude of 2-fold. All other peptides and growth factors tested, including ACTH, AVP, calcitonin, glucagon, neurotensin, somatostatin, EGF, CNTF, and NGF did not affect the growth of SCLC. We conclude that the growth of SCLC is partly controlled by such peptides in an autocrine/paracrine fashion.