Previous studies demonstrated that insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are important autocrine and paracrine mitogens for human bone cells in vitro and that IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) are important regulators of the biologic actions of IGFs. Thus, the actions of IGFs may be determined not only by their concentrations but also by the type and amount of IGFBPs produced by human bone cells at a local site in bone. In this study, we sought to determine the effects of dexamethasone, 1,25-(OH)2D3, and parathyroid hormone (PTH) on the secretion of IGFBP-3 in human osteosarcoma cell lines. Serum-free cultures of low- and high-alkaline phosphatase (ALP) SaOS-2, MG-63, and TE89 human osteosarcoma cells were treated for 24 or 48 h with the effectors and the conditioned media used for determination of IGFBP-3 using a radioimmunoassay. We report that (1) the basal rate of IGFBP-3 secretion (ng/mg cellular protein) was dependent upon cell type, with TE89 > low-ALP Saos-2 > MG-63 > high-ALP SaOS-2 cells, and did not correlate with either basal cell proliferation or basal cellular ALP activity; (2) dexamethasone (10(-12)-10(-7) M) inhibited IGFBP-3 secretion in a dose-dependent manner in low-ALP SaOS-2, MG-63, and TE89 cells but not in high-ALP SaOS-2 cells; (3) 1,25-(OH)2D3 (10(-11)-10(-8) M) stimulated IGFBP-3 secretion in a dose-dependent manner in MG-63, low-ALP SaOS-2, and high-ALP SaOS-2 cells, and the coaddition of TGF-beta and 1,25-(OH)2D3 increased synergistically IGFBP-3 secretion and cellular ALP activity in MG-63 cells; and (4) human PTH-(1-34) (0.1-100 ng/ml) had no significant effect on IGFBP-3 secretion in MG-63, low-ALP SaOS-2, or high-ALP SaOS-2 cells. We conclude that such agents as dexamethasone, 1,25-(OH)2D3, and PTH differentially regulate IGFBP-3 secretion in human osteosarcoma cells in vitro.