The interaction of fibroblasts with adult human prostatic epithelial cells was studied in vitro. Stimulation of epithelial cell proliferation, measured by clonal growth assay, was demonstrated when prostatic epithelial cells were grown in coculture with fibroblasts. Epithelial growth in cocultures with fibroblasts was greater than could be obtained in isolated culture in an "optimized," serum-free medium previously described. Fibroblasts were able to compensate for the deletion of several growth factors from this "optimized" medium, including epidermal growth factor and insulin, but were notably unable to replace bovine pituitary extract. Epithelial growth stimulation identical to that achieved in coculture was produced by medium conditioned by fibroblasts. Similar results were obtained by using fibroblasts of adult human prostate origin, adult human skin, human fetal lung fibroblasts (IMR-90), and mouse 3T3 cells. No difference in response was demonstrated between prostatic epithelial cells derived from normal or malignant tissues. Fixed fibroblast monolayers and extracellular matrix prepared from fibroblast cultures failed to stimulate prostatic epithelial growth. These results suggest that a soluble growth factor is secreted by prostatic fibroblasts and other human fibroblasts of nonprostatic origin, as well as by embryonic mesenchymal cells from nonhuman species, which is capable of producing a marked proliferative response in vitro from adult human prostatic epithelium. This proliferative response could not be reproduced by the addition of a variety of known growth factors to prostatic epithelial cell cultures.