To determine if intestinal stromal cells secrete diffusible factors such as insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) capable of regulating epithelial cell growth in vitro, stromal cells were isolated by enzymatic digestion of rat intestine. Incorporation of [3H]thymidine into DNA and [14C]leucine into protein of IEC-6 cells, a model intestinal epithelial cell line, was significantly increased (two- to threefold) when the IEC-6 cells were co-cultured with stromal cells, relative to IEC-6 cells grown alone. Medium conditioned by stromal cells stimulated DNA synthesis of IEC-6 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Analysis of the conditioned medium revealed that intestinal stromal cells secreted IGF-I, but little IGF-II, in addition to an M(r) 32,000 IGF-binding protein (IGFBP-2) and an IGFBP having M(r) approximately 24,000. We conclude that rat intestinal stromal cells secrete one or more diffusible factors, which may include IGF-I and IGFBPs, capable of stimulating proliferation of IEC-6 cells in vitro.