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We have recently reported that heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (HB-EGF) mRNA is induced in the rat kidney after acute ischemic injury. The present studies were designed to investigate whether bioactive HB-EGF protein is also produced in response to renal injury induced by either ischemia/reperfusion or aminoglycosides. Heparin-binding proteins were purified from kidney homogenates by heparin affinity column chromatography using elution with a 0.2-2.0 M gradient of NaCl. A single peak of proteins that eluted at 1.0-1.2 M NaCl was detected in the postischemic kidney within 6 h of injury. This eluate fraction stimulated DNA synthesis in quiescent Balb/c3T3, RIE, and NRK-52E cell lines, all of which are responsive to the epidermal growth factor family of mitogenic proteins. The EGF receptor of A431 cells was also tyrosine phosphorylated by this eluate peak. Furthermore, immunoblotting with a polyclonal antibody against rat HB-EGF indicated that the eluate peak contained immunoreactive proteins of 22 and 29 kD mol wt, consistent with the reported sizes of the secreted form and membrane anchored form of HB-EGF, respectively. Immunohistochemical studies revealed that HB-EGF was produced predominantly in distal tubules in kidneys injured either by ischemia/reperfusion or aminoglycoside administration. We also found that during metanephric development immunoreactive HB-EGF was detected in the ureteric bud as early as E14.5 and persisted in structures arising from the ureteric bud throughout embryogenesis. These results suggest that in response to acute injury, HB-EGF is produced predominantly in distal tubules and that endogenous HB-EGF may be an important growth factor involved in renal epithelial cell repair, proliferation, and regeneration in the early stages of recovery after acute renal injury, as well as in nephrogenesis.