A radioimmunoassay (RIA) was developed to measure fibroblast growth factor (FGF) using antiserum generated against a synthetic replicate of [Tyr10]FGF(1-10). The antisera, previously shown to be capable of inhibiting the biological action of FGF on bovine aortic arch endothelial cells in vitro, are highly specific for the amino-terminus of FGF. In the RIA, the antisera recognize the decapeptide antigen [Tyr10]FGF(1-10) and the intact mitogen on an equimolar basis and show less than 0.01% cross-reactivity with N-acetyl-[Tyr10]FGF(1-10). Bovine adenohypophysial cells maintained in primary monolayer culture release and ir-FGF which is indistinguishable from the intact mitogen in as much as it is retained on heparin-Sepharose affinity columns and shows a dose-dependent and parallel displacement in RIA. The release of ir-FGF by the bovine adenohypophysis can be increased with forskolin (10(-5) M) or KCl (50 mM). Preincubation of pituitary cells with 17 beta-estradiol has no measurable effects on basal ir-FGF, but increases the release after KCl treatment 2-3-fold. These results show that ir-FGF can be released by the bovine adenohypophysis in vitro and lend credence to the hypothesis that FGF plays a physiological role in the homeostatic mechanisms regulating mesoderm-derived cell growth.