We examined the effects of insulin and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) on the production of collagen by cultures of human embryonic lung fibroblasts. Insulin at 20 ng/ml increased collagen accumulation by 58% and total protein formation by 18%. At 2 micrograms/ml, insulin increased collagen production by 2- to 3-fold and total protein production by 2-fold. The mRNA levels for alpha 1(I) and alpha 1(III) collagen chains were elevated by insulin compared with untreated control values. IGF-I at 10 ng/ml increased collagen production 2-fold. IGF-I at 100 ng/ml maximally increased collagen production 3-fold. A specific antibody to the IGF-I receptor (alpha IR-3) caused a concentration-related decline in insulin-induced collagen formation. The addition of antibody at 1 micrograms/ml, resulted in 80% inhibition of insulin-induced collagen accumulation. Higher levels of antibody were required to inhibit IGF-I mediated collagen formation. The presence of antibody (alpha IR-3) also blocked fibroblast proliferation stimulated by epidermal growth factor plus insulin. These data show that insulin-induced collagen formation is mediated primarily through an interaction with the IGF-I receptor. The modulation of extracellular matrix production by insulin may influence the repair of tissue injury and the development of the accelerated atherosclerosis that accompanies the diabetic state in humans.