Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are bound in the circulation to specific binding proteins (BP). The predominant BP is a GH-dependent glycosylated protein of 42-49 kDa on sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (BP-3), whereas nonglycosylated GH-independent IGFBPs of 32 kDa and less are minor constituents. Primary cultures of rat osteoblastic cells constitutively produce IGFBP species of 32 kDa, while GH induces the accumulation of BP-3. To examine whether BP-3 could regulate the biological activity of IGF-I on osteoblasts, we compared the effects of recombinant native human IGF-I (hIGF-I) on primary cultures of osteoblasts in the presence and absence of GH. hIGF-I stimulated cell replication and α1(I) collagen gene expression in a dose-dependent manner, and these effects were potentiated by the presence of GH, which increased the accumulation of BP-3. To further examine this correlation, we compared the effects of two IGF-I peptides on the osteoblastic cell line PyMS, which constitutively produces BP-3, to those in RCT-3 cells, which do not secrete this IGFBP. Using hIGF-I and [Gin3, Ala4, Tyr15, Leu16]IGF-I ([QAYL]IGF-I), a mutated IGF-I with reduced affinity to IGFBPs, we found that at equimolar concentrations hIGF-I produced higher stimulation than [QAYL]IGF-I on [3H]thymidine incorporation, cell replication, and collagen gene expression in PyMS cells. In contrast, both IGF-I peptides had similar potency in RCT-3 cells. Hence, these data show that the accumulation of BP-3 correlates with enhanced hIGF-I activity on osteoblastic cells, suggesting that BPs may act locally to augment the effects of IGF-I in bone.