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Bombesin-like peptides within neuroepithelial cells elicit proliferation of normal and malignant airway epithelial cells. It is not clear that these peptides also elicit epithelial cell migration, a necessary component of airway repair after injury. We studied the effects of the bombesin analogues, gastrin releasing peptide (GRP) and neuromedin B (NMB), on guinea pig tracheal epithelial cell (GPTEC) migration. Primary GPTEC were allowed to migrate through 8-microm-pore gelatin-coated filters for 6 h in a chemotaxis chamber, after which the number of migrated cells per 10 high power fields (10 hpf) were counted. Both neuropeptides elicited migration of GPTEC: 24.8 +/- 4.5 cells for 10(-11) M NMB (P < 0.001 versus control, n = 4) and 16.8 +/- 1.2 cells for 10(-12) M GRP (P < 0.001 versus control, n = 8). Migration was attenuated substantially by a bombesin receptor antagonist. To investigate further the relationship of migration through a filter to the repair of a damaged epithelium, we studied the repair of epithelial cells by video microscopy. A 0.3- to 0.5-microm2 wound was created in a confluent monolayer of GPTEC, and wound closure was followed over 24 h. There was no significant acceleration in the rate of repair of GRP- or NMB-stimulated monolayers compared to control. These data demonstrate that GRP and NMB elicit migration of airway epithelial cells but may not play a significant role in the early repair of the airway epithelium in culture.