Our previous in vivo analyses have suggested that astrocytes play a key role in retinal vascularization by inducing endothelial cell differentiation. Here we demonstrate that medium conditioned by cultured rat brain astrocytes (ACM) contains factors, including transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), that inhibit endothelial cell growth. Serum-free medium conditioned for 1-3 days was tested on exponentially growing bovine retinal microvascular endothelial, aortic endothelial, mink lung epithelial CCL-64, and Swiss mouse 3T3 fibroblast cells. The growth of all four cell types was inhibited in a dose- and time-dependent manner. CCL cells, which are used as a model for assaying TGF-beta activity, were more sensitive than the endothelial cells, suggesting that ACM contains TGF-beta. Moreover, acid treatment significantly increased the inhibitory activity of ACM, indicating that TGF-beta in ACM is predominantly in the latent form. Mouse fibroblasts, which are not affected by TGF-beta treatment under the same conditions, were also inhibited by ACM. This suggests that other inhibitory factors in addition to TGF-beta may be involved. Adsorption by an anti-TGF-beta polyclonal antibody column substantially reduced but did not eliminate the inhibitory activity of ACM for CCL and endothelial cells. Western blot analysis of ACM and proteins eluted from the affinity column revealed a 25 kDa band that co-migrates with TGF-beta. Comparative densitometry of the 25 kDa bands on Western blot indicated that the amount of TGF-beta in ACM is not sufficient to account for the total growth-inhibitory activity. These experiments demonstrate directly that rat brain astrocytes express TGF-beta. They also indicate that astrocytes may produce other growth-inhibitory factor(s) yet to be identified.