Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are mitogenic for fibroblasts and smooth muscle cells. IGF-1 increases in inflamed and fibrotic tissues and induces proliferation of rat hepatic stellate cells (HSC). This study evaluates the potential roles of these hormones in the development of liver fibrosis. Insulin and IGF-1 receptor expression was evaluated by immunohistochemistry in both cultured human HSC and human liver tissue. Phosphorylation of both 70-kd S6 kinase and extracellular-regulated kinase (ERK), cell proliferation, type I collagen gene expression, and accumulation in HSC culture media were evaluated by Western blot, immunohistochemistry for bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU), Northern blot, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, respectively. Insulin and IGF-1 receptors were detected in HSC in vitro and in liver sections from patients with chronic active hepatitis. Insulin and IGF-1 induced 70-kd S6 kinase phosphorylation in HSC, whereas IGF-1 only induced ERK phosphorylation. Insulin and IGF-1 stimulated HSC proliferation in a dose-dependent fashion, with IGF-1 being four to five times more potent than insulin. Cell exposure to specific inhibitors showed that both phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) and ERK are involved in IGF-1-induced mitogenesis, whereas insulin stimulated mitogenesis through a PI3-K-dependent ERK-independent pathway. IGF-1 increased type I collagen gene expression and accumulation in HSC culture media through a PI3-K- and ERK-dependent mechanism. In conclusion, insulin and IGF-1, which stimulate HSC mitogenesis and collagen synthesis, may act in concert to promote liver fibrosis in vivo by a differential activation of PI3-K- and ERK1-dependent pathways.