The heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (HB-EGF) has been implicated in wound-healing processes of various tissues. However, it is not known whether HB-EGF may represent a factor implicated in overstimulated wound-healing processes of the retina during proliferative retinopathies. Therefore, we investigated whether human retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells, which are crucially involved in proliferative retinopathies, express and respond to HB-EGF. RPE cells express mRNAs for various members of the EGF-related growth factor family, among them for HB-EGF, as well as for the EGF receptors ErbB1, -2, -3, and -4. The gene expression of HB-EGF is stimulated in the presence of transforming and basic fibroblast growth factors and by oxidative stress and is suppressed during chemical hypoxia. Exogenous HB-EGF stimulates proliferation and migration of RPE cells and the gene and protein expression of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). HB-EGF activates at least three signal transduction pathways in RPE cells including the extracellular signal-regulated kinases (involved in the proliferation-stimulating action of HB-EGF), p38 (mediates the effects on chemotaxis and secretion of VEGF), and the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (necessary for the stimulation of chemotaxis). In epiretinal membranes of patients with proliferative retinopathies, HB-EGF immunoreactivity was partially colocalized with the RPE cell marker, cytokeratins; this observation suggests that RPE cell-derived HB-EGF may represent one factor that drives the uncontrolled wound-healing process of the retina. The stimulating effect on the secretion of VEGF may suggest that HB-EGF is also implicated in the pathological angiogenesis of the retina.