A number of growth factors and their associated receptors, including epidermal growth factor, transforming growth factor-beta, keratinocyte growth factor, hepatocyte growth factor, fibroblast growth factor and platelet-derived growth factor have been detected in the anterior segment of the eye. On binding to cellular receptors, these factors activate signalling cascades, which regulate functions including mitosis, differentiation, motility and apoptosis. Production of growth factors by corneal cells and their presence in the tear fluid and aqueous humour is essential for maintenance and renewal of normal tissue in the anterior eye and the prevention of undesirable immune or angiogenic reactions. Growth factors also play a vital role in corneal wound healing, mediating the proliferation of epithelial and stromal tissue and affecting the remodelling of the extracellular matrix (ECM). These functions depend on a complex interplay between growth factors of different types, the ECM, and regulatory mechanisms of the affected cells. Imbalances may lead to deficient wound healing and various ocular pathologies, including edema, neovascularization and glaucoma. Growth factors may be targeted in therapeutic ophthalmic applications, through exogenous application or selective inhibition, and may be used to elicit specific cellular responses to ophthalmic materials. A thorough understanding of the mechanism and function of growth factors and their actions in the complex environment of the anterior eye is required for these purposes. Growth factors, their function and mechanisms of action as well as the interplay between different growth factors based on recent in vitro and in vivo studies are presented.