Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) appear to play an important role in human cranial osteogenesis. We therefore investigated the effects of recombinant human FGF-2 (rhFGF-2) on human calvaria (HC) osteoblastic cells. Immunocytochemical analysis showed that confluent HC cells express both FGF receptors -1 and -2. In short-term culture, rhFGF-2 (0.1-100 ng/ml, 2-5 days) increased HC cell growth and decreased alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity and type I collagen (ColI) synthesis, as evaluated by P1CP levels. When HC cells were induced to differentiate in long-term culture in the presence of 50 μg/ml ascorbic acid and 3 mM phosphate, HC cells initially proliferated, then ALP activity and ColI synthesis decreased and calcium content in the extracellular matrix increased. Continuous treatment with rhFGF-2 (50 ng/ml) for 1-28 days, or a transient rhFGF-2 treatment for 1-7 days, slightly increased DNA synthesis at 7 days, whereas a late treatment for 8-28 days had no effect on cell growth. The continuous and transient treatments with rhFGF-2 decreased ALP activity, ColI synthesis, and matrix mineralization. This was associated with a transient fall in osteocalcin (OC) production at 7 days. In contrast, the late rhFGF-2 treatment for 8-28 days only slightly inhibited ALP activity and increased matrix mineralization. In addition, both continuous and late treatments with rhFGF-2 increased OC production in more mature cells at 3-4 weeks of culture. We also found that the early and late treatments with rhFGF-2 had opposite effects on transforming growth factor β2 production in proliferating cells and more mature cells. The results show that rhFGF-2 slightly stimulates cell growth and reduces the expression of osteoblast markers in less mature cells, whereas it induces OC production and matrix mineralization in more mature cells, indicating that the effects of FGF-2 are differentiation stage specific and that FGF-2 may modulate HC osteogenesis by acting at distinct stages of cell maturation.