Complex cellular processes such as proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis are regulated in part by extracellular signaling molecules: for example, polypeptide growth factors, cytokines, and peptide hormones. Many polypeptide growth factors exert their mitogenic effects by binding to specific cell surface receptor protein tyrosine kinases. This interaction triggers numerous biochemical responses, including changes in phospholipid metabolism, the activation of a protein phosphorylation cascade, and the enhanced expression of specific immediate-early, delayed-early, or late response genes. In this review, I summarize the major findings obtained from studies investigating the effects of serum or individual polypeptide growth factors on gene expression in murine fibroblasts. Several experimental approaches, including differential hybridization screening of cDNA libraries and differential display, have been employed to identify mRNA species that are expressed at elevated levels in serum- or polypeptide growth factor-stimulated cells. These studies have demonstrated that serum- and growth factor-inducible genes encode a diverse family of proteins, including DNA-binding transcription factors, cytoskeletal and extracellular matrix proteins, metabolic enzymes, secreted chemokines, and serine-threonine kinases. Some of these gene products act as effectors of specific cell cycle functions (e.g., enzymes involved in nucleotide and DNA synthesis), others are required to successfully convert a metabolically inactive cell to a metabolically active cell that will eventually increase in size and then divide (e.g., glucose-metabolizing enzymes), and some actually function as positive or negative regulators of cell cycle progression. In conclusion, research conducted during the past 15 years on serum- and growth factor-regulated gene expression in murine fibroblasts has provided significant insight into mitogenic signal transduction and cell growth control.