Thymosin alpha 1 (T alpha 1), the N-terminal 28-amino acid fragment of prothymosin alpha (ProT alpha), and ProT alpha, although originally isolated from whole thymus extracts, are also present in nonthymic cells and tissues. We used an ELISA with an antibody raised against T alpha 1 to investigate the relationship between intracellular levels of thymosin immunoreactive peptide(s) (TIP) and cell proliferation in a rat small intestinal IEC-6 cell line. Increasing TIP levels were observed during cell proliferation, which decreased when proliferation was halted by cellular contact inhibition. Serum feeding of cells previously rendered quiescent by serum starvation resulted in a significant increase in TIP within 1 hr. Conversely, serum starvation decreased TIP levels within 1 hr. Peak TIP levels appeared after 3 hr of serum incubation, while maximum [3H]thymidine incorporation was noted after 9 hr, suggesting maximum TIP concentrations in the G1 phase of the proliferative cycle. Immunoelectron microscopy demonstrated an association of TIP with condensed nuclear chromatin. These results support a relation of intracellular TIP levels to IEC-6 cell proliferation and also a nuclear site of action. HPLC analysis of cellular homogenates from proliferating IEC-6 cells revealed a peak of immune reactivity that elutes in the position of T alpha 1.