Collagen gene expression and proteoglycan synthesis are decreased in vitamin C-deficient guinea pigs losing weight and in fasted guinea pigs receiving ascorbate. Sera from such guinea pigs contain an insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I-reversible inhibitor of collagen, proteoglycan and DNA synthesis and elevated levels of 29 and 35-kDa IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs). We now have identified the induced proteins as IGFBPs 1 and 2 and investigated their role as inhibitors. Guinea pig sera were treated with antibodies to IGFBPs 1 and 2 and antibody-IGFBP complexes were removed by passage through a Protein A-Sepharose column. Inhibitor content of fasted and scorbutic sera, and Protein A pass-through fractions derived from them, was assessed by their level of stimulation of DNA and collagen synthesis in 3T3 cells, compared to analogously treated normal guinea pig serum. Removal of IGFBP-1 from scorbutic serum reversed inhibition of collagen and DNA synthesis by more than half but removal of IGFBP-2 was less effective. Removal of both IGFBPs reversed inhibition almost completely. Similar results were obtained with fasted guinea pig serum. Conversely, purified rat IGFBPs 1 and 2 inhibited DNA and collagen synthesis in cells cultured in normal guinea pig serum or IGF-I-stimulated DNA synthesis, with IGFBP-1 being more potent. Thus, IGFBP-1 and, to a lesser extent IGFBP-2, cause inhibition of IGF-I action by sera from fasted and scorbutic guinea pigs and may inhibit collagen gene expression in vivo.