In this study we describe the presence of high affinity FGF-2 binding sites in the nuclei of U251MG glioma cells (K(d)=7 pM). Immunoprecipitation of total cell extracts with FGF receptor (FGFR) 1-4 antibodies showed that U251MG glioma cells express only FGFR1. [125I]FGF-2 cross linking to nuclear extracts followed by FGFR1 immunoprecipitation showed that FGFR1 may account for the nuclear FGF-2 binding sites. Western blot analysis demonstrated the presence of 103, 118 kDa and small amounts of 145 kDa FGFR1 isoforms in the nuclei of glioma cells. All isoforms contain both the C- and N-terminal domains. Nuclear FGFR1 retains kinase activity. Immunocytochemistry using confocal microscopy showed specific FGFR1 immunoreactivity within the nuclear interior. In continuously proliferating glioma cells, nuclear FGFR1 is constitutively expressed, independent of cell density. In contrast, in nontransformed human astrocytes, nuclear FGFR1 levels fluctuate with the proliferative state of the cell. In quiescent, confluent astrocytes nuclear FGFR1 protein was depleted. An accumulation of nuclear FGFR1 was observed following the transition to a subconfluent, proliferating state. Transfection of a pcDNA3.1-FGFR1 expression vector into glioma cells that do not express FGFR1 resulted in the nuclear accumulation of FGFR1, increased cell proliferation, and stimulated transition from the G0/G1 to the S-phase of the cell cycle. The increased proliferative rate was resistant to inhibition by the cell-impermeable FGF binding antagonist, myoinositol hexakis [dihydrogen phosphate]. Our results suggest that the constitutive nuclear presence of FGFR1 contributes to the increased proliferation of glioma cells while the transient nuclear accumulation of FGFR1 in normal astrocytes may play a role in the transition to a reactive state.