Vascular smooth muscle cell (SMC) proliferation is an integral component of intimal lesion formation. In this study we compared the mitogenic effects of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and heparin binding epidermal growth factor (HBEGF) and the cytotoxic effects of bFGF and HBEGF conjugated with plant cytotoxin saporin (SAP) on vascular cell cultures. Human vascular SMCs and endothelial cells were cultured and FGF receptor-1 (FGFR-1) and EGF receptor (EGFR) expression were detected by immunohistochemical staining. Cells were grown in 24-well plates. Variable amounts of testing drugs (bFGF, HBEGF, SAP, bFGF-SAP, or HBEGF-SAP) were added to quadruplicate wells after 24 h. Cells without drugs were used as control. The total number of cells was counted at 72 h using a hemocytometer. The cultured human vascular SMCs and endothelial cells expressed both FGFR-1 and EGFR with predominant perinuclear localization. bFGF and HBEGF demonstrated equally potent mitogenic effects on SMC proliferation. SAP alone showed a limited cytotoxic effect on both SMCs and endothelial cells. bFGF had a more potent effect on endothelial cell proliferation than HBEGF. bFGF-SAP was equally cytotoxic for both SMCs and endothelial cells, while HBEGF-SAP had a more selectively cytotoxic effect on SMCs than on endothelial cells. These data suggest that the mitogenic effects of bFGF and HBEGF and the cytotoxic effects of bFGF-SAP and HBEGF-SAP may both be mediated by their corresponding growth factor receptors. Because of its selective cytotoxic effect on SMCs, HBEGF-SAP may become a more attractive agent for controlling intimal lesion formation.