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The present study was conducted to study the interaction between epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) in benign human prostatic epithelial cells in culture. Primary cultures of human prostatic epithelial cells were grown in complete WAJC, which consisted of WAJC-404 medium and, in addition to other defined additives, EGF and bovine pituitary extract (BPE). Incomplete WAJC contained the same composition except EGF and BPE were deleted. TGF-beta was added into media at concentrations of 0, 0.1, and 1.0 ng/ml. When cells were grown in complete WAJC, they proliferated rapidly. Cell proliferation was greatly suppressed when incomplete WAJC was used. Addition of TGF-beta to these cultures caused a significant reduction in the final cell number when either complete WAJC or incomplete WAJC was used. In additional experiments, cells were prelabeled with 3H-thymidine for 72 hr prior to treatment with TGF-beta. The percentage of radioactivity released into the medium at the end of a 6-day culture was used as an indication of the extent of cell death. Trypan blue exclusion test was also used to assess the extent of cell death. Addition of TGF-beta into complete WAJC did not significantly affect the extent of cell death beyond what was considered as the result of normal cellular turnover. Addition of TGF-beta into incomplete WAJC, however, caused a significant increase in the percent of cell death in the culture. These results demonstrated an interaction between EGF and TGF-beta in proliferation and cell death in human prostatic epithelia in culture. In the presence of EGF alone in the culture medium, prostatic epithelial cells were stimulated to proliferate. The rate of proliferation was greatly diminished when EGF was deleted from the medium or when TGF-beta was added in the presence of EGF. Finally, cell death was induced when TGF-beta was added into the medium in the absence of EGF.