Tear cytokines and growth factors are likely to modulate the wound healing process following corneal epithelial injury. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a paracrine mediator of epithelial proliferation, motility, and differentiation that is produced by keratocytes and the lacrimal gland. Tear samples were collected preoperatively and one, two, and seven days postoperatively in eyes undergoing excimer laser surface ablation [photorefractive keratoplasty (PRK) or phototherapeutic keratoplasty (PTK)]. Tear HGF concentration was measured with a sensitive ELISA assay. Tear HGF production was calculated using the tear flow rate in the collection capillary and HGF concentration. Although the instantaneous concentration of HGF in tears decreased significantly in the days following PRK, a large increase in tear flow resulted in a marked increase in HGF bioavailability. The heparin-binding characteristics of HGF would result in increased binding to glycosaminoglycans and other heparin-like matrix components and, therefore, increased growth factor availability to the cognate recptor. This is the first report documenting changes in tear film HGF production. HGF may have an important function in maintenance and wound healing of the ocular surface epithelium since HGF is present in the normal tear film and the HGF secretion rate increases markedly in parallel with aqueous tear production following corneal surgical injury.