The interaction of insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) with the IGF-1 receptor is an important step in the control of cell proliferation and development. In particular, IGF-1 and IGF-2 are key regulators of central nervous system development, and may modulate the growth of glial tumors. We have investigated the growth factor regulation of the human glioblastoma cell line T98G. These cells growth arrested in serum-free medium at 34 degrees C, despite their secretion of substantial amounts of bioactive IGF-1. To be stimulated to divide, growth-arrested cells required the addition of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) or its equivalent, 1% serum. Cell proliferation in serum-free medium could also be obtained by shifting the cells to a temperature of 39.6 degrees C. Treatment of growth-arrested cells with PDGF or temperature shift was accompanied by a transient increase in the expression of the mRNA for the IGF-1 receptor. Transfection with a plasmid constitutively expressing the full cDNA for the human IGF-1 receptor allowed autonomous growth in serum-free medium at 34 degrees C. By contrast, growth induction by growth factors or temperature shift was abrogated by transfection of the cells with a plasmid expressing a 300 bp segment of mRNA antisense to the IGF-1 receptor mRNA. Cloning in soft agar was also inhibited by expression of antisense IGF-1 receptor mRNA. These results demonstrate that the IGF-1 receptor is strictly required for the growth of T98G glioblastoma cells. Moreover, the autocrine interaction of IGF-1 with its receptor regulates both autonomous and anchorage-independent growth of these cells.