Rat serum has been shown to stimulate DNA synthesis in primary cultures of adult rat hepatocytes 2-3 times more potently than serum from several other mammalian sources, including humans. Parallel to its stimulation of thymidine incorporation into DNA, rat serum increased the total DNA content of the hepatocyte cultures over time, and also increased the frequency of nuclear labeling and mitosis. Moreover, normal rat serum, derived from whole blood (NRS), stimulated DNA synthesis in hepatocytes twice as effectively as platelet-poor rat serum, derived from plasma (ppNRS). Addition of a rat platelet lysate (RPL) to ppNRS restored the activity to equal that of NRS. The avid binding of the active principle to CM Sephadex and its sensitivity to trypsin digestion suggest that it is a cationic polypeptide with an apparent molecular weight of about 65,000, as determined by gel filtration. It was inactivated by reduction of disulfide bonds, or by exposure to pH below 5.5, to NaCl concentration below 0.05 M, to 65 degrees C for 30 min, or to 100 degrees C for 10 min. Although it resembles the human platelet-derived mitogen platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) in several of its properties, it differs in others. Hence the hepatocyte growth factor from rat platelets, which accounts for 50% of the DNA synthesis-stimulatory activity of rat serum, appears to be a distinct entity.