Growth factors and the gastrointestinal tract

Nutrition. 1998 Oct;14(10):771-4. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(98)00081-1.


This paper reviews areas of interest in gut mucosal growth factor physiology. Several epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like peptides (EGF, transforming growth factor [TGF]-alpha, heparin-binding EGF-like peptide, amphiregulin, and betacellulin) have been identified in the gut, EGF is produced by the salivary glands and is present in milk. It may act on the mucosa from the lumen as a surveillance peptide promoting mucosal repair. A stem-cell-derived "ulcer-associated cell lineage" develops adjacent to ulcers and produces EGF, which may play a role in ulcer healing. TGF-alpha is expressed by villus enterocytes and may have an important role in mucosal healing. The Trefoil peptides (pS2, spasmolytic polypeptide, intestinal trefoil factor) are protease resistant molecules secreted by mucin cells throughout the gut, with a role in mucosal healing. The TGF-beta family inhibit cell proliferation, and promote cell differentiation. TGF-beta has a gradient of expression along the crypt villus axis, with maximum production at the villus tip. It is suspected that it may prevent cell proliferation and support differentiation of villus enterocytes. Hepatocyte growth factor is a multifunctional growth factor expressed in many tissues, including the gastrointestinal tract. It has a role in organogenesis. Intestinal adaptation is highly dependent on enteral nutrition, and it is likely that growth factors are involved in adaptation. Little is known, however, about interactions between nutrients and growth factors. Milk contains a range of potentially important growth factors. Their biological significance is uncertain, and this is an area of active research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Digestive System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / physiology
  • Growth Substances / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology
  • Milk
  • Milk, Human
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / physiology


  • Growth Substances
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Epidermal Growth Factor