Three isoforms of Transforming Growth Factor-beta (TGF-beta 1, beta 2 and beta 3) exist in mammals. They play critical roles in growth regulation and development. Each isoform is encoded by a unique gene on different chromosomes. All three of these growth factors are secreted by most cell types, generally in a latent form, requiring activation before they can exert biological activity. This activation of latent TGF-beta, which may involve plasmin, thrombospondin and possibly acidic microenvironments, appears to be a crucial regulatory step in controlling their effects. The TGF-betas possess three major activities: they inhibit proliferation of most cells, but can stimulate the growth of some mesenchymal cells; they exert immunosuppressive effects; and they enhance the formation of extracellular matrix. Two types of membrane receptors (type I and type II) possessing a serine/threonine kinase activity within their cytoplasmic domains are involved in signal transduction. Inhibition of growth by the TGF-betas stems from a blockage of the cell cycle in late G1 phase. Among the molecular participants concerned in G1-arrest are the Retinoblastoma (Rb) protein and members of the Cyclin/Cyclin-dependent kinase/Cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor families. In the intact organism the TGF-betas are involved in wound repair processes and in starting inflammatory reactions and then in their resolution. The latter effects of the TGF-betas derive in part from their chemotactic attraction of inflammatory cells and of fibroblasts. From gene knockout and from overexpression studies it has been shown that precise regulation of each isoform is essential for survival, at least in the long term. Several clinical applications for certain isoforms have already shown their efficacy and they have been implicated in numerous other pathological situations.