In 6 HCC cell lines, clear expressions of EGFR and TGF-alpha were found in flow cytometry, while expressions of EGF, HB-EGF and AR were quite low. TGF-alpha secretion into culture supernatants became measurable when TPA 0.5 microM was added. TPA accelerated the proliferation of KYN-3 cells, and anti-TGF-alpha neutralizing antibody suppressed this proliferation in a dose-dependent manner. Addition of exogenous TGF-alpha, EGF, AR, or HB-EGF with heparin accelerated cell proliferation. In non-stimulated cultures, cell proliferation was suppressed by anti-EGFR neutralizing antibody, but not by the antibodies for EGF, TGF-alpha, AR and HB-EGF. HCC may possess a paracrine system regulated by these 4 ligands, and an autocrine system, under a certain condition, via TGF-alpha and EGFR.