An in vitro model of wound healing was used to study cell migration that is independent of proliferation during renal regeneration after acute tubular necrosis. Monolayer cultures of high-density, quiescent renal epithelial cells of the BSC-1 line were subjected to scrape wounding and then Northern blot analysis was employed to identify genes that mediate cell migration. After wounding the monolayer, there is maximal induction of the immediate-early genes Egr-1, c-fos, NAK-1, and gro at 1 hour, followed by peak induction of connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) and c-myc at 4 hours. Message levels of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (u-PA) and its inhibitor (PAI-1) and heat shock protein (HSP)-70 are markedly raised 4-8 hours after wounding. Constitutive expression is repressed at 1 hour for transcripts that encode receptors for fibronectin (FN), epidermal growth factor, and hepatocyte growth factor (c-met), and the secreted proteins FN and osteopontin. Expression of genes encoding transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta 1 and -beta 2, retinoic acid receptor alpha, int-1, int-2, and gap junction protein which can play a role in cell movement, appeared unchanged after wounding. Differential expression of genes was a function of cell location relative to the wound; NAK-1, PAI-1, and HSP-70 were induced or stimulated only in cells at the wound edge, u-PA was stimulated in cells away from the wound, and CTGF was induced in each of these populations suggesting that cell-to-cell communication may regulate gene expression after wounding. Adenosine diphosphate, a potent stimulator of cell migration which enhances expression of u-PA and PAI-1 in nonwounded cultures, additively stimulates these genes after wounding and may thereby potentiate wound healing. Thus scrape wounding of renal epithelial cells is followed by induction, stimulation, or repression of specific genes with distinct responses in different populations of cells.