In vitro and in vivo studies suggest that liver fat-storing cells (FSC) may play an important role in the development of liver fibrosis. We explored the effects of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor (TGF)-alpha and TGF-beta, and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) on DNA synthesis and growth of rat liver FSC. PDGF, EGF, TGF-alpha, and bFGF induced a dose-dependent increase in DNA synthesis with a peak effect at 24 h. PDGF produced the most striking effect with a maximum 18-fold increase over control. EGF, TGF-alpha, and bFGF elicited a maximum three- to fourfold increase in DNA synthesis. Analysis of growth curves revealed a similar pattern of potency of the growth factors. TGF-beta did not affect DNA synthesis of FSC; however, TGF-beta markedly potentiated the stimulatory effects of both EGF and PDGF. FSC showed high specific binding of 125I-PDGF and Scatchard analysis revealed high affinity receptors with an apparent Kd of 2.3 x 10(-10) M. Our data suggest that PDGF is a key mitogen for FSC and that the coordinate release of other growth factors together with PDGF by inflammatory cells represents a potent potential stimulus for FSC proliferation in conditions of chronic self-perpetuating liver inflammation.