Stromal derived factor-1 (SDF-1 or CXCL12) controls many aspects of stem cell function including trafficking and proliferation. Previously, it was demonstrated that DNA-damaging agents such as irradiation, cyclophosphamide or 5-fluorouracil increase the expression of SDF-1 by osteoblasts in murine marrow. Here, the production of SDF-1 by osteoblasts in vitro in response to cytokines known to be particularly important in bone physiology was examined using primary human osteoblasts (HOBs), mixed marrow stromal cells (BMSCs), and by, mouse, rat and human osteoblast-like cell lines. From these studies, it was determined that the expression of SDF-1 is an early feature of osteoblastic induction that may be modulated by IL-1beta, PDGF-BB, VEGF, TNF-alpha and PTH. Each of these factors increased SDF-1 synthesis, while TGF-beta1 decreased SDF-1 secretion. Of note, the biodistribution of SDF-1 in culture was equally distributed between the medium and detergent-soluble and -insoluble fractions of the cultures. Immunohistochemistry of developing bones demonstrated that SDF-1 was also a feature of early bone development first beginning in the perichondrium and moving into the marrow cavity of the developing bone analogue. As SDF-1 expression increases in response to PTH in vitro, animals were treated with an anabolic regime of PTH for 21 days. Under these conditions, significant increases in SDF-1 mRNA expression were observed near the growth plate and epiphysis regions of the long bones. Yet, in serum, immunodetectable SDF-1 levels were significantly reduced (24%) in the PTH-treated animals (Vehicle: 408 +/- 25 vs. PTH 308 +/- 20 SDF-1 pg/ml). Together, these data suggest a possible mechanism for localizing stem cells into a developing marrow where increased expression of SDF-1 in the local marrow environment along with decreased SDF-1 in the serum may create a homing gradient.