Mast cells play a potentially important role in fibroproliferative diseases, releasing mediators including tryptase that are capable of stimulating fibroblast proliferation and procollagen synthesis. The mechanism by which tryptase stimulates fibroblast proliferation is unclear, although recent studies suggest it can activate protease-activated receptor (PAR)-2. We therefore investigated the role of PAR-2 in tryptase-induced proliferation of human fetal lung and adult lung parenchymal and airway fibroblasts and, for comparative purposes, adult dermal fibroblasts. Tryptase (0.7-70 mU/ml) induced concentration-dependent increases in proliferation of all fibroblasts studied. Antipain, bis(5-amidino-2-benzimidazolyl)methane, and benzamidine inhibited tryptase-induced fibroblast proliferation, demonstrating that proteolytic activity is required for the proliferative effects of tryptase. RT-PCR demonstrated the presence of PAR-2 mRNA, and immunohistochemical staining localized PAR-2 to the cell surface of lung fibroblasts. In addition, specific PAR-2 activating peptides, SLIGKV and SLIGRL, mimicked the proliferative effects of tryptase. In contrast, human dermal fibroblasts only weakly stained with the PAR-2 antibody, PAR-2 mRNA was almost undetectable, and fibroblasts did not respond to PAR-2 activating peptides. These results suggest that tryptase induces lung, but not dermal, fibroblast proliferation via activation of PAR-2 and are consistent with the hypothesis that the release of tryptase from activated mast cells may play an important role in the fibroproliferative response observed in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and patients with pulmonary fibrosis.