Heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF) is a polypeptide with an apparent molecular weight of 22 kilodalton that is related to epidermal growth factor (EGF) and that binds and activates the EGF receptor. We examined HB-EGF biological action and expression in human pancreatic cancer cell lines, and compared HB-EGF expression in normal and cancerous pancreatic tissues. HB-EGF enhanced the growth of human pancreatic cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. Several cell lines expressed HB-EGF mRNA transcripts, and the transcript level was enhanced by HB-EGF, as well as by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate and transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha). By comparison with the normal pancreas, HB-EGF mRNA levels were increased in human pancreatic cancer tissues. These findings suggest that HB-EGF may participate in aberrant autocrine and paracrine activation of the EGF receptor, thereby contributing to pancreatic cancer cell growth.