Parathyroid hormone (PTH) and PTH-related protein (PTHrP) exert potent and diverse effects in cells of the osteoblastic and chondrocytic lineages. However, downstream mediators of these effects are characterized inadequately. We identified a complementary DNA (cDNA) clone encoding the 5' end of the transcription factor Sox-4, using a subtracted cDNA library enriched in PTH-stimulated genes from the human osteoblast-like cell line OHS. The SOX-4 gene is a member of a gene family (SOX and SRY) comprising transcription factors that bind to DNA through their high mobility group (HMG)-type binding domain, and previous reports have implicated Sox proteins in various developmental processes. In situ hybridization of fetal and neonatal mouse hindlimbs showed that Sox-4 messenger RNA (mRNA) was expressed most intensely in the zone of mineralizing cartilage where chondrocytes undergo hypertrophy, and by embryonic day 17 (ED17), after the primary ossification center was formed, its expression was detected only in the region of hypertrophic chondrocytes. Sox-4 mRNA was detected in osteoblast-like cells of both human and rodent origin. In OHS cells, physiological concentrations (10(-10)-10(-9) M) of human PTH 1-84 [hPTH(1-84)] and hPT(1-34), but not hPTH(3-84), stimulated Sox-4 mRNA expression in a time-dependent manner, indicating involvement of the PTH/PTHrP receptor. Sox-4 transcripts also were detected in various nonosteoblastic human cell lines and tissues, in a pattern similar to that previously reported in mice. The presence of Sox-4 mRNA in hypertrophic chondrocytes within the mouse epiphyseal growth plate at sites that overlap or are adjacent to target cells for PTH and PTHrP, and its strong up-regulation via activated PTH/PTHrP receptors in OHS cells, makes it a promising candidate for mediating downstream effects of PTH and PTHrP in bone.