Postmenopausal bone loss is primarily due to estrogen deficiency. Recent clinical observation demonstrate that GH increases bone mass in GH deficient patients. The present study investigates whether estrogen regulates GH action and GH receptor expression in osteoblasts. 17 beta-estradiol or GH added to the culture medium as single substances did not influence rat osteosarcoma cell proliferation nor human osteoblast-like (hOB) cell proliferation. However, together they synergistically induced osteoblast proliferation (rat osteosarcoma cells 160.1 +/- 15.5% of control cells; human osteoblast-like cells 159.6 +/- 5.1% of control cells). 17 beta-estradiol stimulated 125I-GH binding and GH receptor (GHR) mRNA levels in rat osteosarcoma cells. The stimulatory effect of estradiol was time dependent, reaching a peak after 8 h of incubation with 17 beta-estradiol (binding 216.9 +/- 27.8% and mRNA 374.6 +/- 30.8% of control). The finding that estradiol stimulated 125I-GH binding was confirmed in human osteoblast-like cells. In these cells, 17 beta-estradiol (10(-12) M) increased 125I-GH binding to 203.8 +/- 3.6% of control levels. We conclude that estrogen stimulates GH activity as well as GH binding and GHR mRNA levels in osteoblasts. These findings indicate that estrogen potentiates the effect of GH at the receptor level.