Recent cDNA characterization has predicted the existence of a new member of the transforming growth factor family, transforming growth factor-beta 3 (TGF beta 3). However, nothing is known about the biological activities of the TGF beta 3 protein, since it has not been purified from any natural sources. We report here the recombinant expression in mammalian cells and the purification to apparent homogeneity of human TGF beta 3. The TGF beta 3 was evaluated in comparison with purified TGF beta 1 and TGF beta 2 in several assays for its effects on stimulation or inhibition of proliferation of mammalian cells. These analyses revealed that TGF beta 3 exerts activities similar to the two other TGF beta species, but that there are distinct differences in potencies between the different TGF beta forms depending on the cell type and assay used.