Increased collagen production by mesangial cells plays a key role in the development and progression of glomerular sclerosis. These changes reflect in part the impact of growth factors on mesangial cells. Since mesangial cells possess receptors for epidermal growth factor (EGF) and since previous studies have documented that EGF affects collagen synthesis in other cell types, we have examined the effects of EGF on collagen biosynthesis by rat kidney mesangial (RKM) cells in culture. Exposure for 24 h to EGF did not substantially affect the growth rate of RKM cells. While the types of collagen produced by RKM cells (types I, III, IV and V) were unaltered by exposure to EGF, total collagen production was reduced ( approximately 50%). This decrease in collagen expression was not uniform for each collagen type. Type I collagen production was inhibited by approximately 50%, both type III and type IV expression were each reduced by approximately 30%, but type V collagen production was suppressed by only approximately 15%. The reduction in type I collagen synthesis was accounted for mainly by a decrease in type I homotrimer production. Since type I molecules represent approximately 95% of the total collagen produced, the decrease in overall collagen expression reflects a specific suppression by EGF on type I homotrimer production in mesangial cells. As EGF exposure resulted in a decrease in collagen production, these results suggest that the increases in synthesis and deposition of collagen observed in several glomerular diseases likely do not reflect the short-term effects of EGF on mesangial cells. Rather, these findings suggest the possibility that EGF or EGF-like growth factors may ameliorate the effects of other soluble factors that cause enhanced matrix production and deposition in renal diseases.