Growth factors and tumor promoters have been shown to play a role in intestinal epithelial growth regulation and transformation. In this study, transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF alpha) and the tumor promoter, tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate (TPA), are shown to stimulate the production of eicosanoids by rat intestinal epithelial (RIE-1) cells in culture. A 4.5-kb mRNA, which hybridizes to the mouse cyclooxygenase-2 cDNA probe, is elevated 18-fold within 30 min after TGF alpha or TPA treatment. Stimulation of RIE-1 cells with TGF alpha leads to the increase of a protein (M(r) approximately 69,000), which binds a monospecific antibody to the mouse cyclooxygenase-2 protein. Dexamethasone markedly inhibits the increase of the 4.5-kb mRNA. Pretreatment of TGF alpha or TPA-stimulated RIE-1 cells with dexamethasone or cyclooxygenase inhibitors prevents the increase in eicosanoid production by these cells. Treatment of quiescent RIE-1 cells with TGF alpha stimulates mitogenesis. This mitogenic activity is blocked by pretreating the cells with dexamethasone or cyclooxygenase inhibitors. A mitogen-inducible cyclooxygenase gene is thus shown to be regulated by TGF alpha and TPA in rat intestinal epithelial cells. We suggest that products of an intestinal growth factor-inducible cyclooxygenase may play a role in the regulation of mitogenesis.