Previous studies showed that the retina produces factors that promote the differentiation of lens fiber cells, and identified members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF) families as potential fiber cell differentiation factors. A possible role for the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) is suggested by the presence of BMP receptors in chicken embryo lenses. We have now observed that phosphorylated SMAD1, an indicator of signaling through BMP receptors, localizes to the nuclei of elongating lens fiber cells. Transduction of chicken embryo retinas and/or lenses with constructs expressing noggin, a secreted protein that binds BMPs and prevents their interactions with their receptors, delayed lens fiber cell elongation and increased cell death in the lens epithelium. In an in vitro explant system, in which chicken embryo or adult bovine vitreous humor stimulates chicken embryo lens epithelial cells to elongate into fiber-like cells, these effects were inhibited by noggin-containing conditioned medium, or by recombinant noggin. BMP2, 4, or 7 were able to reverse the inhibition caused by noggin. Lens cell elongation in epithelial explants was stimulated by treatment with FGF1 or FGF2, alone or in combination with BMP2, but not to the same extent as vitreous humor. These data indicate that BMPs participate in the differentiation of lens fiber cells, along with at least one additional, and still unknown factor.