This study examined whether gastrin modulates endothelial cell activity via heparin-binding epidermal growth factor-like growth factor (HB-EGF) expression. Human umbilical vascular endothelial cells (HUVEC) were assessed for tubule formation in the presence of amidated gastrin-17 (G17) and glycine-extended gastrin-17 (GlyG17) peptides. HB-EGF gene and protein expressions were measured by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR, immunocytochemistry, and Western blotting, and HB-EGF shedding by ELISA. Matrix metalloproteinases MMP-2, MMP-3, and MMP-9 were assessed by Western blotting. Chick chorioallantoic membrane studies measured the in vivo angiogenic potential of gastrin and microvessel density (MVD) was assessed in large intestinal premalignant lesions of hypergastrinaemic APC(Min) mice. MVD was also examined in human colorectal tumor and resection margin normals and correlated with serum-amidated gastrin levels (via RIA) and HB-EGF protein expression (via immunohistochemistry). HUVEC cells showed increased tubule and node formation in response to G17 (186%, P < 0.0005) and GlyG17 (194%, P < 0.0005). This was blockaded by the cholecystokinin-2 receptor (CCK-2R) antagonists JB95008 and JMV1155 and by antiserum to gastrin and HB-EGF. Gastrin peptides increased HB-EGF gene expression/protein secretion in HUVEC and microvessel-derived endothelial cells and the levels of MMP-2, MMP-3, and MMP-9. G17 promoted angiogenesis in a chorioallantoic membrane assay, and MVD was significantly elevated in premalignant large intestinal tissue from hypergastrinaemic APC(Min) mice. In terms of the clinical situation, MVD in the normal mucosa surrounding colorectal adenocarcinomas correlated with patient serum gastrin levels and HB-EGF expression. Gastrin peptides, acting through the CCK-2R, enhance endothelial cell activity in models of angiogenesis. This may be mediated through enhanced expression and shedding of HB-EGF, possibly resulting from increased activity of matrix metalloproteinases. This proangiogenic effect translates to the in vivo and human situations and may add to the tumorigenic properties attributable to gastrin peptides in malignancy.