Growth factors and cytokines play an important role in tissue development and repair. However, it remains unknown how they act on proliferation and differentiation of periodontal ligament cells. In this study, we investigated the effects of several growth factors and cytokines on the synthesis of DNA, alkaline phosphatase (ALPase), fibronectin, and secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine (SPARC) in human periodontal ligament (HPL) cells. Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) increased the synthesis of DNA, fibronectin and SPARC, whereas it decreased ALPase activity. Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) decreased SPARC and ALPase levels, whereas these peptides increased DNA synthesis and did not affect fibronectin synthesis. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) up-regulated the synthesis of DNA and fibronectin and inhibited SPARC and ALPase levels. Interleukin-1β (IL-1β) decreased the synthesis of DNA, ALPase, fibronectin and SPARC. These findings demonstrate that TGF-β, bFGF, EGF, PDGF, TNF-α and IL-1β have characteristically different patterns of action on DNA, SPARC, fibronectin and ALPase synthesis by HPL cells. The differences in regulation of function of periodontal ligament cells by these peptides may be involved in the regeneration and repair of periodontal tissue.