The proliferating effect of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) on granulosa cells from ovarian pre-hierarchical follicles was evaluated in the laying chickens. Expression of bFGF receptor 1 (FGFR1) from small yellow follicles was determined by immunohistochemistry and RT-PCR. The FGFR1 protein and mRNA were intensively expressed in the granulosa layer. After 8- to 24-h treatment with bFGF (0.1–100 ng/ml), the proliferation of cultured granulosa cells was remarkably enhanced in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The FGFR1 antagonist SU5402 inhibited bFGF-induced cell proliferation. This stimulating effect was further confirmed by 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine incorporation and terminal transferase dUTP nick end-labelling assay. Immunocytochemistry of protein kinases A (PKA) and C (PKC) showed that the pro-proliferation action of bFGF predominantly activated PKC expression. Meanwhile, the bFGF-induced cell proliferation was significantly promoted by PKC activator PMA and inhibited by PKC inhibitor H7 (p < 0.05). In addition, the bFGF-elicited cell proliferation was accompanied with increased mRNA expression of the cell cycle-regulating genes including cyclins D1 and E1, cyclin-dependent kinases 2 and 6. In conclusion, bFGF promoted the proliferation of ovarian granulosa cells through binding with FGFR1 and involving PKC pathway in the pre-hierarchical follicles of the laying chickens.