Regulation of transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF beta 1), TGF beta 2, and TGF beta 3 mRNAs in murine fibroblasts and keratinocytes by TGF beta 1 and TGF beta 2 was studied. In quiescent AKR-2B fibroblasts, in which TGF beta induces delayed stimulation of DNA synthesis, TGF beta 1 autoregulation of TGF beta 1 expression was observed as early as 1 h, with maximal induction (25-fold) after 6 to 12 h. Increased expression of TGF beta 1 mRNA was accompanied by increased TGF beta protein production into conditioned medium of AKR-2B cells. Neither TGF beta 2 nor TGF beta 3 mRNA, however, was significantly induced, but both were apparently down regulated at later times by TGF beta 1. Protein synthesis was not required for autoinduction of TGF beta 1 mRNA in AKR-2B cells. Nuclear run-on analyses and dactinomycin experiments indicated that autoregulation of TGF beta 1 expression is complex, involving both increased transcription and message stabilization. In contrast to TGF beta 1, TGF beta 2 treatment of quiescent AKR-2B cells increased expression of TGF beta 1, TGF beta 2, and TGF beta 3 mRNAs, but with different kinetics. Autoinduction of TGF beta 2 mRNA occurred rapidly with maximal induction at 1 to 3 h, enhanced TGF beta 3 mRNA levels were observed after 3 h, and increased expression of TGF beta 1 occurred later, with maximal mRNA levels obtained after 12 to 24 h. Nuclear run-on analyses indicated that TGF beta 2 regulation of TGF beta 2 and TGF beta 3 mRNA levels is transcriptional, while TGF beta 2 induction of TGF beta 1 expression most likely involves both transcriptional and posttranscriptional controls. In BALB/MK mouse keratinocytes, minimal autoinduction of TGF beta 1 occurred at only the 12- and 24-h time points and protein synthesis was required for this autoinduction. The results of this study provide an example in which TGF beta 1 and TGF beta 2 elicit different responses and demonstrate that expression of TGF beta 1, and TGF beta 3 are regulated differently. The physiological relevance of TGF beta 1 autoinduction in the context of wound healing is discussed.