We investigated the role of glucocorticoids in controlling the proliferation of androgen-independent PC-3 human prostate cancer cells via the action of transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF beta 1). The presence of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in PC-3 cells was detected by immunoblotting analysis using a rabbit anti-GR polyclonal antibody against the synthetic human GR peptide (hGR383-393). In PC-3 cells, GR bound radiolabeled dexamethasone with an affinity similar to wild-type GR. In addition, GR-ligand complex bound radiolabeled DNA as detected by DNA band-shift analysis on gel electrophoresis and trans-activated the mouse mammary tumor virus-thymidine kinase-chloramphenicol acetyltransferase chimeric gene in transiently transfected PC-3 cells. Dexamethasone (0.1 up to 100 nM) and TGF beta 1 (0.5 up to 50 ng/ml) inhibited PC-3 cell proliferation. TGF beta 1 and dexamethasone both increased the distribution of PC-3 cells into the G1/G0 phase of the cell cycle. Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) stimulated the proliferation of PC-3 cells and overcame dexamethasone's inhibition of PC-3 cell growth. Dexamethasone's inhibition (10(-7) M) of PC-3 cell growth was completely neutralized by RU 486 (10(-6)M) and partly neutralized by anti-TGF beta 1 polyclonal antibody. Furthermore, dexamethasone up modulated the expression of TGF beta 1 mRNA in PC-3 cells. Because dexamethasone's inhibition was neutralized at least in part by an anti-TGF beta 1 polyclonal antibody and dexamethasone up modulated the expression of TGF beta 1 mRNA in PC-3 cells, we conclude that GR function in human PC-3 prostate cancer cells is mediated at least in part by TGF beta 1 expression.