A non-transformed small-intestinal cell line from the rat (IEC-6) and a human colon cancer cell line (HT 29) were examined for their trophic response to sensory neuropeptides. Substance P, neurokinin A (NKA), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), and peptide YY (PYY) were tested. Epidermal growth factor (EGF), insulin, and somatostatin-14 were also used. Interaction studies were performed on IEC-6 cells by combining EGF or insulin with somatostatin-14. The sensory neuropeptides had no effect either on IEC-6 cell growth and DNA synthesis or on HT29 cell growth. EGF and insulin stimulated cell growth and DNA synthesis in IEC-6 cells and cell growth in HT 29 cells in a dose-dependent fashion. Somatostatin-14 had no effect either alone or in combination with EGF or insulin on IEC-6 cell growth and DNA synthesis. HT 29 cell growth was inhibited by somatostatin-14 only in the presence of serum with a maximal and significant response at 10(-7) M. Our observations suggest that the sensory neuropeptides do not exert a direct growth-regulatory effect either on IEC-6 cells or on HT 29 cells. Somatostatin, however, inhibits serum-induced HT 29 cell growth but does not interfere directly with the proliferative effect of serum, EGF, or insulin on IEC-6 cells in this model.