Inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract is associated with increased epithelial cell proliferation. Keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) is an epithelial cell mitogen widely expressed by mesenchymal cells subjacent to the epithelial cells. In this study, we have investigated the expression and distribution of KGF in normal and diseased (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis(UC)) intestine by quantitative competitive reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction in whole biopsies and purified lamina propria myofibroblasts and by in situ hybridization. Analysis of whole mucosal biopsies reveals significantly higher numbers of KGF mRNA transcripts in UC compared with Crohn's colitis and control colon (P < 0.001). KGF transcripts were also elevated in Crohn's ileitis compared with normal ileum. In situ hybridization showed a marked increase in cells expressing KGF mRNA throughout the lamina propria in both UC and Crohn's tissue. In Crohn's disease, positively hybridizing cells were only rarely seen in the submucosa but were abundant around the bases of the crypts and were not associated with lymphoid aggregates. In purified mucosal myofibroblasts, increased (15- to 20-fold) KGF mRNA expression was seen in UC compared with control and Crohn's tissue. These results confirm and extend earlier studies showing that KGF transcripts are elevated in inflammatory bowel disease, but they show for the first time that transcripts are higher in UC than Crohn's disease because of increased production by mucosal mesenchymal cells.