A synthetic peptide representing the receptor-binding domain of human thrombin (TP508, also known as Chrysalin®) accelerates fracture repair in rats via endochondral ossification and promotes repair of rabbit cartilage defects. To understand how this peptide might stimulate cartilage and bone formation, we employed an established in vitro model of growth plate cartilage regulation. Rat costochondral cartilage resting zone and growth zone chondrocytes were treated with 0, 0.07, 0.7, or 7 μg/ml TP508 or a scrambled peptide, TP508-SP. Proliferation ([3H]-thymidine incorporation) was examined in pre-confluent cultures; effects on cell number, alkaline phosphatase activity, [35S]-sulfate incorporation, and responsiveness to vitamin D metabolites were tested using confluent cultures. TP508 did not affect proliferation of resting zone cells but it caused a dose-dependent increase in cell number and DNA synthesis of growth zone cells. Alkaline phosphatase specific activity of resting zone cells was reduced by TP508, whereas [35S]-sulfate incorporation was increased. Neither parameter was affected in growth zone cell cultures. TP508 treatment for 24 h did not induce resting zone cells to respond to 1α,25(OH)2D3, either with respect to alkaline phosphatase activity or proteoglycan production. In contrast, TP508 treatment reduced the stimulatory effect of 24R,25(OH)2D3 on alkaline phosphatase but it did not alter the stimulatory effect of 24R,25(OH)2D3 on [35S]-sulfate incorporation. In cultures treated for 48, 72, or 140 h with TP508, 1α,25(OH)2D3 restored alkaline phosphatase activity to control levels but did not stimulate activity over levels observed in untreated control cultures. The stimulatory effect of TP508 on [35S]-sulfate incorporation was evident up to 48 h post-confluence but at later time points, proteoglycan production was comparable to that seen in control cultures, control cultures challenged with 1α,25(OH)2D3, and cultures treated with TP508 followed by 1α,25(OH)2D3. TP508-SP had no effect on any of the parameters tested. These results indicate that TP508 exerts maturation specific effects on chondrocytes in the endochondral lineage, promoting cartilage extracellular matrix synthesis over endochondral differentiation in resting zone cells and proliferation over differentiation of growth zone cells. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.