Epithelia play a key role as protective barriers, and mechanisms of repair are crucial for restoring epithelial barrier integrity, especially in the lung. Cell spreading and migration are the first steps of reepithelialization. Keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) plays a key role in lung epithelial repair and protects against various injuries. We hypothesized that KGF may protect the lung not only by inducing proliferation but also by promoting epithelial repair via enhanced epithelial cell migration. In an in vitro wound-healing model, we found that KGF enhanced wound closure by 33%. KGF acted primarily by inducing lamellipodia emission (73.2 +/- 3.9% of KGF-treated cells had lamellipodia vs 61.3 +/- 3.4% of control cells) and increasing their relative surface area (59 +/- 2.7% with KGF vs 48 +/- 2.0% in controls). KGF reduced cytoskeleton stiffness as measured by magnetic twisting cytometry and increased cell motility (5.8 +/- 0.42 microm/h with KGF vs 3.7 +/- 0.41 microm/h in controls). KGF-increased cell motility was associated with increased fibronectin deposition during wound closure and with fibronectin reorganization into fibrils at the rear of the cells. Taken together, our findings strongly suggest that KGF may promote epithelial repair through several mechanisms involved in cell migration.