Bone morphogenic protein-4 (BMP-4) is one of nine structurally related BMPs belonging to the transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) superfamily of secreted proteins. Mature BMP-4 is a dimer that binds to a multimeric transmembrane receptor with serine/threonine kinase activity. Although discovered because it stimulates bone formation in adult mammals, BMP-4 has important roles as a signalling molecule in embryonic tissues, including the developing central and peripheral nervous system, musculature and skeleton. It participates in an ancient signalling pathway also found in insects and worms. Nevertheless, the main practical application of BMPs is for stimulating repair of bone, and their use in humans is currently being assessed.