The well-described detrimental effects of ionizing radiation on the regeneration of bone within a fracture site include decreased osteocyte number, suppressed osteoblast activity, and diminished vascularity. However, the biologic mechanisms underlying osteoradionecrosis and the impaired fracture healing of irradiated bone remain undefined. Ionizing radiation may decrease successful osseous repair by altering cytokine expression profiles resulting from or leading to a change in the osteoblastic differentiation state. These changes may, in turn, cause alterations in osteoblast proliferation and extracellular matrix formation. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of ionizing radiation on the proliferation, maturation, and cytokine production of MC3T3-E1 osteoblast-like cells in vitro. Specifically, the authors examined the effects of varying doses of ionizing radiation (0, 40, 400, and 800 cGy) on the expression of transforming growth factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and alkaline phosphatase. In addition, the authors studied the effects of ionizing radiation on MC3T3-E1 cellular proliferation and the ability of conditioned media obtained from control and irradiated cells to regulate the proliferation of bovine aortic endothelial cells. Finally, the authors evaluated the effects of adenovirus-mediated TGF-beta1 gene therapy in an effort to "rescue" irradiated osteoblasts. The exposure of osteoblast-like cells to ionizing radiation resulted in dose-dependent decreases in cellular proliferation and promoted cellular differentiation (i.e., increased alkaline phosphatase production). Additionally, ionizing radiation caused dose-dependent decreases in total TGF-beta1 and VEGF protein production. Decreases in total TGF-beta1 production were due to a decrease in TGF-beta1 production per cell. In contrast, decreased total VEGF production was secondary to decreases in cellular proliferation, because the cellular production of VEGF by irradiated osteoblasts was moderately increased when VEGF production was corrected for cell number. Additionally, in contrast to control cells (i.e., nonirradiated), conditioned media obtained from irradiated osteoblasts failed to stimulate the proliferation of bovine aortic endothelial cells. Finally, transfection of control and irradiated cells with a replication-deficient TGF-beta1 adenovirus before irradiation resulted in an increase in cellular production of TGF-beta1 protein and VEGF. Interestingly, this intervention did not alter the effects of irradiation on cellular proliferation, which implies that alterations in TGF-beta1 expression do not underlie the deficiencies noted in cellular proliferation. The authors hypothesize that ionizing radiation-induced alterations in the cytokine profiles and differentiation states of osteoblasts may provide insights into the cellular mechanisms underlying osteoradionecrosis and impaired fracture healing.