The purpose of this study was to determine the temporal course of changes in epithelial cell production and mucosal morphology following ligation of the rat's ascending colon. Control animals were sham ligated with a loose tie of suture, and ligated and control rats were pair red after surgery. Between the 12th and 24th postoperative h, crypt mitotic and [3H] thymidine labelling indices in the obstructed colon increased to a level of 75% greater than values obtained from unoperated rats. This response was accompanied by gains in the proportion of crypt cells engaged in the division cycle. By 72 h, the numbers of cells per total crypt length and crypt circumference were increased by 40 and 47%, respectively. In addition, morphometrical measurements revealed that crypt cell size in the obstructed colon was significantly greater than control value at 72 h. Colonic ligation had relatively minor effects on cell production and villus and crypt cell number in the terminal ileum. Contrasted with the obstructed bowel, proliferative indices distal to the ligature and in the ileum and colon of control rats diminished rapidly after surgery. Thus, limitation of the hyperproliferative response to the intestine immediately proximal to the ligature strongly suggests that the proliferative stimulus in colonic obstruction is local in action.