The role of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) 2 and FGF9 as mediators of cell–cell interactions between Sertoli cells (SCs) and peritubular cells (PCs) was investigated. Using RT-PCR, we demonstrated that SCs and PCs recovered from 20-day-old rats expressed several of the seven FGF receptors (FGFRs), and more specifically the FGFR1 IIIc. FGF2 and FGF9 did not elicit any morphological changes in primary cultures of SCs, nor did they alter the number of SCs in culture. By contrast, changes in shape were observed in FGF2- and FGF9-treated PCs. In addition, FGF2 but not FGF9 enhanced significantly and dose-dependently the number of PCs in culture, indicating that FGF2 was a survival factor for these cells. It was also mitogenic because it enhanced the [3H]thymidine labeling index in PCs. We next examined the effects of FGF2 and FGF9 in a coculture system using 20-day-old rat SCs and PCs, and in an organotypic culture system using XY rat embryonic gonads. In both models, FGF2 and FGF9 were found to promote cellular interactions as evidenced by the extent of cellular reorganization in the coculture system, and cord morphogenesis and growth in the organotypic culture system. A key feature in SC–PC interactions is the synthesis and remodeling of the basement membrane which is co-elaborated by the two cell types. Since basement membrane homeostasis depends upon the coordinated activity of proteinases and inhibitors, the proteinases and inhibitors produced by PCs and SCs degrading or opposing degradation of the major components of the basement membrane were further studied. Specifically, we monitored the metalloproteinases (MMP)- 2 and -9 and the tissue inhibitors -1, -2 and -3, the plasminogen activators (PAs) and the PA inhibitor-1, using zymography for the proteinases and Western blots for the cognate inhibitors. Cocultures received FGF or an analog of cAMP in order to prevent cellular reorganization. We found that FGF2 was unique in inducing MMP-9 in coculture. Also, the enhanced levels of the PA inhibitor-1 and the 30 kDa band glycosylated form of tissue inhibitor-3 correlated with the enhanced SC–PC reorganization. It was concluded that FGF2 and FGF9 are morphogens for the formation of testicular cords.