Cultured porcine aortic smooth muscle cells and human fibroblasts produce somatomedinlike peptides and secrete them into the surrounding microenvironment. This production has been linked to their ability to replicate. The objective of this study was to determine if a specific anti-somatomedin-C (Sm-C) monoclonal antibody that binds the somatomedinlike peptides could inhibit replication by porcine aortic smooth muscle cells and human fibroblasts. To determine if the antibody could inhibit the effect of endogenously produced somatomedinlike peptide, increasing concentrations of antibody were co-incubated with platelet-derived growth factor, a known stimulant of somatomedinlike peptide secretion, and Sm-C-deficient platelet-poor plasma. Addition of the antibody reduced fibroblast [3H]thymidine incorporation from 35,100 +/- 500 to 10,600 +/- 700 cpm (P less than 0.001), and in smooth muscle cells from 29,600 +/- 1,800 to 10,800 +/- 1,100 cpm (P less than 0.001). Co-incubation of exogenously added Sm-C (20 ng/ml) with maximally inhibitory dilutions of antibody increased [3H]thymidine incorporation in fibroblasts from 7,800 +/- 1,000 to 18,900 +/- 800 cpm (P less than 0.01), and in smooth muscle cells from 9,800 +/- 1,200 to 17,200 +/- 1,100 cpm (P less than 0.01). Insulin, which can substitute for Sm-C as a mitogen and does not bind to the antibody, stimulated DNA synthesis when co-incubated with the antibody, thereby excluding the possibility of nonspecific cytotoxicity. These results strengthen the hypothesis that the rate of DNA synthesis of these two cell types in vitro is directly linked to their capacity to produce somatomedinlike peptides. They further support the cellular production of somatomedinlike peptides as examples of the autocrine model of growth regulation.