Connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) is a 36-to 38-kDa peptide that is selectively induced by transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) in fibroblastic cell types. We compared the biologic activities of CTGF with TGF-beta on fibroblasts in culture and in animal models of fibroplasia. CTGF was active as a mitogen in monolayer cultures of normal rat kidney fibroblasts. CTGF did not stimulate anchorage-independent growth of NRK fibroblasts, however, or inhibit the growth of mink lung epithelial cells, distinguishing CTGF's growth-regulatory activities from those of TGF-beta. In NRK fibroblasts, both TGF-beta and CTGF significantly increased the transcripts encoding alpha 1 type I collagen, alpha 5 integrin, and fibronectin. Stimulation of type I collagen and fibronectin protein synthesis by TGF-beta and CTGF was confirmed by pulse labeling of cells with [35S]methionine. Subcutaneous injection of TGF-beta and CTGF into neonatal NIH Swiss mice resulted in a large stimulation of granulation tissue and fibrosis at the site of injection. In situ hybridization studies revealed that TGF-beta injection induced high levels of CTGF mRNA in the dermal fibroblasts at the injection site, demonstrating that TGF-beta can induce the expression of CTGF in connective tissue cells in vivo. No CTGF transcripts were detected in the epidermal cells in either control or TGF-beta-injected skin or in fibroblasts in control (saline-injected) skin. These results demonstrate that, like TGF-beta, CTGF can induce connective tissue cell proliferation and extracellular matrix synthesis.