Normal rat kidney (NRK-52E) cells, an established cell line of renal origin, were used as a bioassay system to reveal a possible mitogenic activity in tissue extracts prepared from kidneys undergoing tubular regeneration. Acute tubular injury was induced in female Wistar rats by a 4-day treatment with gentamicin at daily doses of 50 or 100 mg/kg twice daily. Animals were killed either 1 or 4 days after cessation of gentamicin administration. Proximal tubule regeneration in treated animals was confirmed by morphological examination after proliferating cell nuclear antigen staining. Tissue extracts from regenerating kidneys stimulated DNA synthesis in growth-arrested cells to a higher extent than extracts from intact kidneys. Sera from treated and control animals showed no difference with respect to mitogenic activity. The mitogenic effect of tissue extracts was sensitive to the tyrosine kinase inhibitor tyrphostin A46. The cell proliferative response to regenerating kidney extracts, but not that to intact kidney extracts, was partly suppressed by the addition of anti-insulin-like growth factor I (anti-IGF-I) antiserum. These data indicate that nephrogenic repair entails an elevation of biologically active IGF-I in kidney tissue.