Studies were undertaken, using isolated prostatic epithelial and stromal cells, to evaluate the role of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) in the regulation of benign prostatic growth. bFGF was detected in lysates, but not the conditioned media, of cultured prostatic epithelial and stromal cells by Western immunoblotting and immunoprecipitation of metabolically labeled proteins. Immunofluorescence analysis of benign human prostate localized the majority of bFGF to the prostatic stroma. In addition, bFGF was a potent stimulator of stromal cell proliferation in vitro, but was not mitogenic to cultured epithelial cells. Further studies demonstrated bFGF receptors (Kd = 258 pM; 61,400 receptors/cell) on stromal cells, but not epithelial cells. Epithelial cell-conditioned medium was mitogenic for stromal cells, suggesting the presence of paracrine interactions. However, bFGF does not appear to be the mediator of this interaction, since the mitogenic effect of epithelial cell-conditioned medium on stromal cells was not significantly reduced by the addition of anti-bFGF. Additional studies showed that concentrated stromal cell-conditioned medium was not mitogenic to cultured stromal cells under serum-free defined conditions, indicating the lack of an external autocine mechanism. These studies demonstrate that bFGF is actively synthesized by isolated prostatic epithelial and stromal cells, but is largely not secreted. Prostatic stroma, but not epithelia, are responsive to the mitogenic effect of bFGF in vitro. However, because of the limited secretion of bFGF by prostatic cells, the mechanism(s) of bFGF-mediated regulation of stromal growth remains unclear.