Primary mass cultures and cloned strains of bovine aortic endothelial and smooth muscle cells were investigated with respect to their growth responses to glucocorticoid hormones. The growth of primary endothelial cells was not influenced by glucocorticoid treatment in the absence of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) but was inhibited by about 30% in the presence of FGF; with cloned endothelial cells, glucocorticoids were also growth inhibitory only in the presence of FGF. In contrast, smooth muscle cell growth was inhibited 30%-70% by glucocorticoid treatment in both primary cultures and in the cloned strains in the absence of FGF, and this inhibition was totally abolished by the addition of FGF for both cultures. The corticosteroid influences on cell growth were glucocorticoid specific, concentration dependent, and were observed to be independent of the serum concentration. The results indicate that glucocorticoid hormones have direct and pronounced growth inhibiting effects on aortic smooth muscle cells but only minimal effects on endothelial cells when these components of the vascular wall are analyzed under identical conditions in vitro.