Abstract Periprosthetic osteolysis and implant loosening is associated with the presence of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) wear debris particles. Osteoblast phenotypic expression in vitro is affected by UHMWPE particles, suggesting that bone formation may also be affected by wear debris. Here we tested the hypothesis that the response of osteoblasts to UHMWPE can be modified by changes in UHMWPE particle chemistry. We used four different commercially available preparations of GUR UHMWPE particles to determine if chemical composition (±Ca-stearate) or polymer molecular weight (3.1–4.2 million or 5.4–6.5 million g/mol) modulates osteoblast response. Particles were characterized by size distribution, morphology, and number of particles added to the culture medium. They had an average equivalent circle diameter ranging from 0.46–1.26 μm. MG63 cell response was assessed by measuring cell number, cellular and cell layer alkaline phosphatase, and prostaglandin E 2 ( PGE 2) production. There were dose-dependent effects of the particles on cell response. Cell number and PGE 2 production were increased, while alkaline phosphatase specific activity was decreased. In addition, there was a marked difference between cultures treated with particles containing Ca-stearate and as a function of polymer molecular weight. Particles of higher molecular weight caused a greater stimulation of proliferation and inhibition of alkaline phosphatase than particles of lower molecular weight. The presence of Ca-stearate exerted a more pronounced depression of osteoblast phenotype as well as a significantly greater increase in PGE 2 release by the cells. The present study shows that chemical composition and polymer molecular weight of UHMWPE are capable of modulating osteoblast response to particles. The results suggest that osteoblast differentiation is inhibited by UHMWPE particles, whereas cell proliferation and PGE 2 production are stimulated. This may have direct effects on osteoblasts and bone formation, but also paracrine effects on cells of the monocytic lineage inducing bone resorption and promoting inflammation which may lead to aseptic loosening. The present results suggest that the cellular events in aseptic loosening may be modulated or even accelerated by changes in the composition of the UHMWPE used to fabricate implants.