A human hepatoma cell line, HepG2, secretes a discrete insulin-like growth factor-binding protein (IGFBP-1) into serum-free medium, which is identical to the 25K mol wt BP in amniotic fluid and plasma. IGFBP-1 levels in vivo have been shown to be inversely correlated with circulating insulin concentrations. This study investigated the direct effects of insulin on IGFBP-1 production in vitro. Addition of insulin to HepG2 cultures induced a rapid dose-dependent decrease in IGFBP-1 synthesis and secretion independent of the glucose concentration in the medium. As assessed by ligand binding and specific RIA, levels of IGFBP-1 were 20-50% of control levels in 18-h conditioned medium from insulin-treated cells. Monoclonal antibody studies indicated that the suppressive effect of insulin on IGFBP-1 synthesis was mediated through specific interaction with the insulin receptor. Therefore, HepG2 cells respond to insulin by altering the synthesis and secretion of IGFBP-1 in a manner that mimics many of the changes in plasma IGFBP-1 levels observed in vivo and provide an in vitro model for studies of IGFBP-1 biosynthesis.