Epidermal regeneration following middermal injuries to skin requires both proliferation and migration of keratinocytes. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulates the proliferation of keratinocytes in culture, and topical administration of EGF accelerates epidermal regeneration of partial thickness burns or split-thickness incisions in vivo. Transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) and vaccinia growth factor (VGF) have substantial sequence homology with EGF, and all appear to bind to the same receptor protein. Whether TGF-alpha or VGF can affect epidermal wound healing in vivo is not known. The present studies show that topical administration of TGF-alpha or VGF in antibiotic cream to partial thickness burns (second degree) accelerated epidermal regeneration in comparison with untreated or vehicle-treated burns. Low levels of both TGF-alpha and VGF (0.1 microgram per milliliter) appeared to be more effective than EGF in stimulating epidermal regeneration. Regenerated epithelium from burns treated with TGF-alpha or VGF appeared normal histologically. This finding suggests that topical application of selected growth factors may be useful in accelerating healing of partial thickness injuries.