Abstract The role of circulating molecules during early tooth morphogenesis was studied in organ cultures of mouse embryonic molar-tooth germs. Special attention was focused on the effect of transferrin and insulin, which are necessary for the growth of most cells in culture. The requirement of serum factors for tooth morphogenesis was shown to diminish as the developmental stage advances from the bud stage in day-13 embryos to the cap stage at day 15. The day-15 teeth underwent morphogenesis and cell differentiation in unsupplemented basal culture medium, but the addition of transferrin (50 μg/ml) was necessary for the morphogenesis of day-14 tooth germs. We demonstrated, by using transferrin-depleted serum, that transferrin is also necessary for the morphogenesis of day-13 tooth germs. However, some still-unidentified serum components are also required for the morphogenesis of the bud-stage day-13 teeth. These factors apparently do not include insulin, since it was shown to inhibit tooth development. Analysis of the DNA content of tooth germs cultured in various culture media showed that the ability of transferrin to sup port tooth morphogenesis correlated with a stimulation of growth. The results support our earlier suggestions that transferrin functions as a fetal growth factor. The availability of the transferrin-containing chemically defined medium facilitates studies on the roles of other growth factors during tooth development.