Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), a potent mitogen for fibroblasts, is a potentially important cytokine in the pathogenesis of fibroproliferative disorders of lung. Different isoforms of PDGF include a heterodimer composed of A and B chains and homodimers composed of A or B chains. The biological significance of the different isoforms is unknown, but they have been shown to differ in their mitogenic potency in some systems. Their effects on other fibroblast functions have not been fully examined. We undertook this study to determine the effect of PDGF isoforms on human lung fibroblast proliferation and procollagen synthesis. Cultured lung fibroblasts (IMR-90, WI-38, GeNA) were incubated in the presence of varying concentrations of highly purified PDGF-AB obtained from platelets or recombinant PDGF-AA or -BB homodimers. Incorporation of [3H]thymidine was determined as a measure of mitogenic activity. Fetal lung fibroblasts (IMR-90, WI-38) and an adult fibroblast strain (GeNA) responded similarly to the different isoforms, with maximum mitogenic activity observed at 5-10 ng/mL. Cell cycle analysis using three additional normal adult lung fibroblast strains indicated that all PDGF isoforms stimulated similar proportions of cells to cycle over a 7-day period. Fibroblast procollagen synthesis, measured after pulse labeling with [3H]proline, was not increased even at concentrations of the PDGF isoforms that were maximally mitogenic. Moreover, steady-state levels of alpha 1(I) and alpha 1(III) procollagen mRNA levels, determined by northern analysis and dot blot hybridization, were not changed after exposure to any of the PDGF isoforms. While all PDGF isoforms are potent mitogens for fetal and adult lung fibroblasts, it was concluded that they do not directly stimulate procollagen gene expression or procollagen synthesis in vitro. The results suggest that PDGF isoforms are potentially important mitogens for lung fibroblasts, but other factors are likely to be involved in the stimulation of fibroblast procollagen synthesis that is observed in fibroproliferative disorders of lung.