Our objective was to determine the potentially anabolic effects of orally administered recombinant human insulin-link growth factor I (rhIGF-I)on small intestinal growth in formula-fed neonatal pigs. Unsuckled neonatal pigs received formula or formula containing added rhIGF-I (3.5 mg.kg-1.day-1) from birth to 4 days of age. Pigs in both groups were fed 30 ml/kg formula every 2 h on day 1 and then every 4 h on days 2-4, and blood was sampled daily. Oral administration of rhIGF-I to formula-fed neonatal pigs increased small intestinal weight, protein, and DNA content,but not length. Jejunal and ileal villus height, but not crypt depth or muscularis thickness, also were increased by oral rhIGF-I administration. Neither the circulating concentration of IGF-I nor the IGF-binding proteins differed between control and oral rhIGF-treated pigs, suggesting that the absorption of orally administered rhIGF-I from the intestinal lumen into the peripheral circulation was limited. Our results demonstrate that oral administration of rhIGF-I during the first 4 days after birth significantly increased small intestinal mucosal growth in formula-fed neonatal pigs. These results suggest that oral administration of rhIGF-I may be a viable therapeutic approach to enhance intestinal growth in neonates.