Although the expression and biological role of transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) have been explored in a variety of normal cells in mammalian species, little is known about the storage of TGF-alpha in secretory cells of exocrine organs. Parotid glands from four rats were homogenized for RNA isolation followed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction to determine the presence of TGF-alpha message. In situ hybridization using a hamster-specific TGF-alpha riboprobe was done on paraffin sections. Parotid gland and isolated acinar cells were processed for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and postembedding immunogold labeled for TGF-alpha. Gold particles were counted on approximately 200 granules in 10 acinar cells and in 10 intercalated duct cells. Labeling density was calculated as the number of gold particles per square micrometer +/- SD. Statistical significance was calculated using one-way analysis of variance. Using multiple technologies, we have established that rat parotid acinar and intercalated duct cells synthesize TGF-alpha and store the precursor form of this cytokine in their secretory granules.