We recently showed that heparin-binding EGF-like growth factor (HB-EGF) has hepatotrophic effects. In this study, we developed an ELISA system with high specificity and sensitivity for human plasma HB-EGF. In 14 patients who underwent partial hepatectomy, plasma HB-EGF levels were measured serially after surgery. In patients who underwent gross hepatectomy (lobectomy and segmentectomy), plasma HB-EGF levels increased, reaching maximal levels approximately 5 to 7 days after surgery. In patients who underwent minor hepatectomy (subsegmentectomy), plasma HB-EGF levels did not increase. Maximal plasma HB-EGF levels were significantly higher in patients who had a percent increased volume of the remaining liver (%ILV) above 20% than those who had a %ILV below 20% (32.4 +/- 19.6 pg/ml vs 7.4 +/- 2.7, P < 0.05). The plasma HB-EGF values did not correlate with WBC counts, C-reactive protein, or alanine aminotransferase. Plasma HB-EGF may be a marker for liver regeneration after hepatectomy in humans.