Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) is a polypeptide with multiple physiological functions. Isoforms of this growth factor have important roles in control of the cell cycle, in regulation of cell-cell interactions and in growth and development. Malignant transformation has been shown to be associated with increased expression of TGF-beta. Since bone is the largest storage site and producer of TGF-beta, we speculated on the existence of an autocrine mechanism in osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor. Expression of TGF-beta cell surface receptors, effects on growth of TGF-beta and TGF-beta antibodies and production of 2 TGF-beta isoforms were studied in a panel of 7 osteosarcoma cell lines. In contrast to most previous reports on the effects of TGF-beta on osteosarcoma cell growth, we found a mitogenic effect of TGF-beta 1 in 4 of 7 osteosarcoma cell lines. Receptor profiles for TGF-beta were aberrant in 5 of the 7 cell lines tested, and production of TGF-beta 1 and TGF-beta 2 varied among cell lines. Addition of anti-TGF-beta antagonized the effects of endogenous TGF-beta. Our results suggest a potential role of TGF-beta in autocrine growth control of osteosarcoma cells.