A transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) found in platelets strongly inhibited DNA synthesis of adult rat hepatocytes in primary culture stimulated by insulin plus EGF or by hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) from rat platelets, but not the syntheses of secretory and intracellular proteins by the cells. TGF-beta had no cytotoxic effect, as judged by phase-contrast microscopic examination of the cell morphology. The inhibition of DNA synthesis by TGF-beta was correlated with marked decrease in the labeling index. TGF-beta did not inhibit growth of hepatoma cell line. These findings indicate that TGF-beta is a strong growth inhibitor of adult rat hepatocytes and may block their shift from the G1 phase to the S phase. The physiological role of TGF-beta in inhibiting growth of adult hepatocytes during liver regeneration is discussed.