Reexpression of aggrecan and type II collagen genes in dedifferentiated adult human articular chondrocytes (AHAC) in suspension culture varied widely depending on the specific lot of bovine serum used to supplement the culture medium. Some lots of serum provided strong induction of aggrecan and type II collagen expression by AHAC while others did not stimulate significant production of these hyaline cartilage extracellular matrix molecules even following several weeks in culture. Addition of 50 ng/ml insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) to a deficient serum lot significantly enhanced its ability to induce aggrecan and type II collagen mRNA. Given this observation, IGF-I and other growth factors were tested in defined serum-free media for their effects on the expression of these genes. Neither IGF-I nor insulin nor transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) alone stimulated induction of aggrecan or type II collagen production by dedifferentiated AHAC. However, TGF-beta 1 or TGF-beta 2 combined with IGF-I or insulin provided a strong induction as demonstrated by RNase protection and immunohistochemical assays. Interestingly, type I collagen, previously shown to be downregulated in serum supplemented suspension cultures of articular chondrocytes, persisted for up to 12 weeks in AHAC cultured in defined medium supplemented with TGF-beta and IGF-I.