Using immunohistochemical techniques a subpopulation of endocrine cells in the human oxyntic mucosa was found to react with antibodies against basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF). These cells were identified as histamine-producing enterochromaffin-like (ECL) cells and, to a minor extent, serotonin-producing enterochromaffin cells. Basic fibroblast growth factor immunoreactive cells were most frequently found in hyperplastic lesions of ECL cells occurring in hypergastrinemic patients (20 of 27 cases) and in ECL cell carcinoid tumors (10 of 17 cases). In addition, bFGF mRNA was demonstrated by Northern blot analysis of homogenates from two gastric carcinoids cytologically characterized as pure ECL cell tumors. Although the function of bFGF in normal cells remains unknown, its production in neoplastic conditions may be responsible for the associated desmoplastic and angioblastic proliferations. Moreover, secretion of bFGF by hyperplastic or neoplastic ECL cells may contribute to the circulating levels of the bFGF-like mitogenic factor identified in patients affected by multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome.