Crypt fission is now established as an important mechanism of intestinal growth and regeneration. It has been proposed that increased crypt size is the stimulus for crypt fission, because crypts preparing for fission are generally larger. Consequently, we investigated the effects of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and dimethylhydrazine, which are both known to stimulate crypt cell proliferation, on crypt fission in the rat intestine. We also examined whether the effects of EGF on both proliferation and crypt fission are modified by the pretreatment with dimethylhydrazine for 16 weeks, dimethylhydrazine was then discontinued for 8 weeks, followed by intravenous infusion of EGF for 1 week. There were four groups: vehicle alone, EGF alone, dimethylhydrazine alone, and dimethylhydrazine followed by EGF infusion. The rats were killed at 25 weeks and rates of intestinal crypt cell production, crypt size, and crypt fission were determined. Intravenously infused EGF significantly increased crypt cell production rate, but the magnitude of the effect decreased from the proximal to the distal colon. EGF caused an increase in crypt area, possibly reflecting an increase in crypt size. Importantly dimethylhydrazine had no significant effect on crypt cell production rate nor on crypt area in the distal colon, but it did cause an increase in crypt area in the mid-colon. The crypt fission index was significantly decreased by EGF and increased by dimethylhydrazine. There was no qualitative interaction between EGF and dimethylhydrazine. These results demonstrate the marked proliferative effect of intravenously infused EGF in the colon of orally fed rats, with significant site effects (P = 0.0007); the effect was greatest in the proximal colon and disappeared in the distal colon. The observation that EGF reduced crypt fission indicates that increased cell proliferation, per se, is not a stimulus for crypt fission. This is further supported by the observation that dimethylhydrazine increases crypt fission in crypts of normal size in the distal colon without significantly increasing cell proliferation. These results suggest that increasing crypt cellularity by proliferation is not sufficient to induce crypt fission, and factors other than increased crypt size by proliferation can control crypt fission. It is also probable that cell proliferation and crypt fission are independently regulated. Crypt fission appears to play a considerable role in the intestinal response to carcinogens.