Excess levels of glucocorticoids are known to cause osteoporosis. It is speculated that the effect of glucocorticoids could be mediated via regulation of IGF-I. The aims of the present study were to detect and quantify the expression of IGF-I and/or IGF-II mRNA transcripts in human osteoblast-like cells and to investigate whether glucocorticoids regulate the expression of IGF-I mRNA transcripts in human osteoblast-like cells. Cultures of human osteoblast-like cells from trabecular bone were established. The IGF-IA and IGF-IB transcripts were detected in human osteoblast-like cells from seven out of nine patients while the IGF-II transcript was detected in human osteoblast-like cells from eight out of nine patients, as determined by RT-PCR assays. Human osteoblast-like cells, as well as human muscle tissue, expressed approximately 1/10 of the IGF-I mRNA levels found in liver, as determined by RNase protection solution hybridization assay. The IGF-I mRNA levels did not decrease with age in the human osteoblast-like cells and no difference was seen between males and females. However, cortisol (10(-6) mol/l) decreased IGF-I mRNA levels. In summary, the present study has shown that human osteoblast-like cells express IGF-I and IGF-II mRNA transcripts and that cortisol down-regulates the IGF-I mRNA levels, indicating that some of the inhibitory effect of glucocorticoids on bone formation in humans is mediated via a reduced autocrine/paracrine expression of IGF-I.