Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), a potent regulator of bone formation, has bifunctional effects on osteoblast replication and biochemical activity that appear differentiation dependent. We now show that cell surface binding sites for TGF-beta vary markedly among fibroblasts, bone-derived cells, and highly differentiated osteosarcoma cultures from fetal rats. Expression of betaglycan and type II receptors decline relative to type I receptor expression in parallel with an increase in osteoblast-like activity, predicting that the ratio among various TGF-beta binding sites could influence how its signals are perceived. Bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP-2), which induces osteoblast function, does not alter TGF-beta binding or biochemical activity in fibroblasts and has only small effects in less differentiated bone cells. In contrast, BMP-2 rapidly reduces TGF-beta binding to betaglycan and type II receptors in osteoblast-enriched primary cell cultures and increases its relative binding to type I receptors in these cells and in ROS 17/2.8 cultures. Pretreatment with BMP-2 diminishes TGF-beta-induced DNA synthesis in osteoblast-enriched cultures but synergistically enhances its stimulatory effects on either collagen synthesis or alkaline phosphatase activity, depending on the present state of bone cell differentiation. Therefore, BMP-2 shifts the TGF-beta binding profile on bone cells in ways that are consistent with progressive expression of osteoblast phenotype, and these changes distinguish the biochemical effects mediated by each receptor. Our observations indicate specific stepwise actions by TGF-beta family members during osteoblast differentiation, developing in part from changes imprinted by BMP-2 on TGF-beta receptor stoichiometry
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