In a search for dietary factors that might stimulate enterocyte proliferation, we developed an assay for thymidine incorporation into DNA using harvested crypt cells from mature rat small intestine. Human colostrum stimulated a significant increase in thymidine incorporation into rat crypt cell DNA during a 60-min period of incubation. When the protein with biological activity was purified to a single peak by sequential ion exchange and gel filtration chromatography, it was found to have the characteristics of lactoferrin. The protein was identical to lactoferrin standards by sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, isoelectric focusing, and double-diffusion immunologic precipitation. All available human lactoferrins stimulated thymidine uptake and all reacted with a lactoferrin polyclonal antibody. Human lactoferrin appears to be a potent activator of thymidine incorporation into DNA in incubated rat crypt cells, a nutritional function not previously reported.