The transforming growth factor-beta (TGF beta) family in mammals includes three closely related peptides that influence proliferation and numerous physiologic processes in most mesenchymal cells. In this study, Northern blots, immunohistochemistry, TGF beta radioreceptor assays, TGF beta receptor affinity labeling and [3H] thymidine incorporation were used to evaluate whether primary cell cultures of human meningiomas synthesize the three TGF beta isoforms, bear TGF beta receptors, and respond to TGF beta. Transcripts for TGF beta 1 and 2 were detected in the three cases analyzed. Transforming growth factor-beta 1 immunoreactivity was detected in three of six cases, and TGF beta 2 and 3 immunoreactivity were detected in each case analyzed. Media conditioned by cells cultured from six meningiomas also contained latent TGF beta-like activity. Transforming growth factor-beta receptor cross-linking studies identified TGF beta binding sites corresponding to the type 1, type 2, and type 3 receptors on meningioma cells. Treatment with active TGF beta 1 produced a statistically significant reduction in [3H] thymidine incorporation after stimulation with 10% fetal calf serum and epidermal growth factor in all six cases studied.