The role of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1) in the development of the porcine preadipocyte was studied. Primary cultures of stromal-vascular cells (containing preadipocytes) were derived from s.c. adipose tissue of pigs at 1 d of age by enzyme digestion and centrifugation. Cells were cultured for a total of 15 d. Cells were exposed to IGF-1 at concentrations of 0, 5, 25 or 50 ng/ml medium during one of four time periods: d 1-15, d 1-5, d 13-15, or 4 h on d 15 of culture. IGF-1 had a mitogenic effect on cells during the first three time periods as determined by coulter counting. IGF-1 induced the enzymatic differentiation of porcine preadipocytes following exposure for either the entire 15 d of culture or for only 48 h (d 13-15) after confluency had been attained (d 5). Histochemically, lipid accumulation over time paralleled changes in enzyme activity. Incubation of IGF-1 with the cell cultures during the logarithmic phase of growth (d 1-5) or for 4 h on d 15 did not affect enzyme activity. These data indicate that IGF-1 can induce the differentiation of porcine preadipocytes after the cells leave the logarithmic phase of growth through action on post-confluent events.