The transcription factor C/EBP alpha, a member of the CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein family, is highly expressed in the liver and in adipose tissue. The aim of this study was to determine if C/EBP alpha is expressed in rat growth cartilage. The expression pattern of C/EBP alpha in monolayer-cultured growth plate chondrocytes was similar to that of C/EBP alpha during hepatocyte and preadipocyte differentiation. Immunohistochemistry with a polyclonal antibody for C/EBP alpha revealed that the C/EBP alpha protein is present in the perichondrial ring, in the germinal layer of the growth plate and on the surface of the articular cartilage. The growth hormone (GH) receptor has a similar distribution in the rat tibial growth plate, and hypophysectomised rats were used to investigate a possible connection between C/EBP alpha and GH. C/EBP alpha mRNA levels were decreased in rib cartilage after hypophysectomy. However, GH treatment did not counteract this effect, indicating that other pituitary hormones regulate the C/EBP alpha mRNA levels in growth plate cartilage. We thus demonstrate, for the first time, that C/EBP alpha is expressed in cartilage. The finding that C/EBP alpha, like the GH receptor, is predominantly expressed in stem cell areas of the rat growth plate indicates a possible functional role for C/EBP alpha during early chondrogenic differentiation.