The liver is a major source of circulating insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), and it also synthesizes several classes of IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs). Synthesis of IGF-I and IGFBPs is regulated by hormones, growth factors, and cytokines. They are nutritionally regulated and expressed in developmentally specific patterns. To gain insight into cellular regulatory mechanisms that determine hepatic synthesis of IGF-I and IGFBPs and to identify potential target cells for IGF-I within the liver, we studied the cellular sites of synthesis of IGF-I, IGF receptor, growth hormone (GH) receptor, and IGFBPs in freshly isolated rat hepatocytes, endothelial cells, and Kupffer cells. We also localized cellular sites of IGFBP synthesis by in situ hybridization histochemistry. Western ligand and immunoblot analyses were used to determine IGFBP secretion by isolated cells. Two IGF-I mRNA subtypes with different 5' ends (class 1 and class 2) were detected in all isolated liver cell preparations. Type 1 IGF receptor mRNA was detected in endothelial cells, indicating that these cells are a local target for IGF actions in liver. GH receptor was expressed in all cell preparations, consistent with GH regulation of IGF-I and IGFBP synthesis in multiple liver cell types. The IGFBPs expressed striking cell-specific expression. IGFBP-1 was synthesized only in hepatocytes, and IGFBP-3 was expressed in Kupffer and endothelial cells. IGFBP-4 was expressed at high levels in hepatocytes and at low levels in Kupffer and endothelial cells. Cell-specific expression of distinct IGFBPs in the liver provides the potential for cell-specific regulation of hepatic and endocrine actions of IGF-I.