Transforming growth factor-beta 1 mRNA and transforming growth factor beta activity are decreased with exposure of normal adult rat lung fibroblasts to dexamethasone. Dexamethasone caused a decrease in transforming growth factor-beta 1 mRNA within 2 hours, which was sustained at least over a 24-hour period. The decrease in transforming growth factor-beta 1 mRNA was dose related. Dexamethasone treatment of rat lung fibroblasts also resulted in a decrease of transforming growth factor beta activity as determined by the mink lung cell growth inhibition assay. These data indicate that glucocorticoids may regulate collagen synthesis at least in part through the mediation of transforming growth factor-beta 1 in rat lung fibroblasts.