Epidermal growth factor and related substances mediate their effects on epithelial cells through binding to high-affinity receptors (EGF-R) at their basolateral surface and it is hypothesized that this growth factor system play a major role in gut morphogenesis and maintenance. The current review emphasizes on analyzing the expression and the biochemical characteristics of EGF-R in human fetal gut segments and correlating the biological actions of EGF-R ligands. They appear to be primarily involved in the local regulation of epithelial cell proliferation in which EGF-R are abundant. Alternatively, EGF-R ligands exert some precocious maturative effects by increasing intestinal lactase activity and decreasing brush border hydrolases in colon while they down modulate the expression of segment-specific markers of terminal differentiation such as sucrase, trehalase and glucoamylase in the intestine and chief cell lipase in the stomach. Such effects are consistent with the identification of receptors at the surface of all epithelial cell types, illustrating the modulatory role of EGF on differentiated gut epithelial cells. Comparison with animal models illustrates similar biochemical properties of receptors and underlines physiological aspects specific to human gut development. The relevance for ligand heterogeneity is also discussed and tentatively associated with different delivery pathways or physiological responses.