We report the effects of chrysotile and crocidolite asbestos, and glass and rock wool fibers (man-made vitreous fibers, MMVF) on the induction of binucleate cells in vitro. The response of human mesothelial cells (target cells in fiber carcinogenesis) and rodent cells was compared. Human primary mesothelial cells, MeT-5A cells (an immortalized human mesothelial cell line), and rat liver epithelial (RLE) cells were exposed to asbestos and MMVF samples of similar size range. Milled glass wool, milled rock wool, and titanium dioxide were used as non-fibrous particle controls. All four fiber types caused statistically significant increases in the amount of binucleate cells in human primary mesothelial cells and MeT-5A cells (in the dose range 0.5-5.0 micrograms/cm2). Chrysotile and crocidolite asbestos were more effective (1.3-3.0-fold increases) than thin glass wool and thin rock wool fibers (1.3-2.2-fold increases). However, when the fiber doses were expressed as the number of fibers per culture area, the asbestos and MMVF appeared equally effective in human mesothelial cells. In RLE cells, chrysotile was the most potent inducer of binucleation (2.9-5.0-fold increases), but the response of the RLE cells to crocidolite, thin glass wool, and thin rock wool fibers was similar to the response of the human mesothelial cells. No statistically significant increases in the number of bi- or multinucleate cells were observed in human primary mesothelial cells or RLE cells exposed to the non-fibrous dusts. In MeT-5A cells exposed to 5 micrograms/cm2 of milled glass wool and milled rock wool, as well as in cultures exposed to 2 and 5 micrograms/cm2 of TiO2, significant increases were, however, observed. Our results show that rodent cells respond differently to mineral fibers than human cells. The results also add evidence to the suggested importance of disturbed cell division in fiber carcinogenesis.