Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are differentiative factors whose principal function is to induce transformation of undifferentiated mesenchymal cells into chondroblasts and osteoblasts in a dose-dependent manner. Bone morphogenetic proteins have been isolated postnatally in mammals from bone matrix, periosteal cells, mesenchymal cells of marrow stroma, tooth anlagen, and cells of osteosarcoma and chondrosarcoma. Distribution in additional embryonic tissues implies a broader organogenic function. Bone morphogenetic proteins are the only differentiative factors able to singularly induce de novo bone formation in vitro and in vivo. Recombinant DNA technology allows their production in large and highly purified quantities. The BMPs' osteoinductive ability has been shown with a variety of carriers including collagens and polymers at heterotopic and orthotopic sites in a wide range of species. They are presently being readied for clinical use as alternatives to bone grafts. Other potential applications include use as pulp capping agents, promoters of implant osteointegration and soft tissue reunion with bone, treatments for nonadaptive bone disease, and implants for use with mitotically expanded skeletal stem cell populations. Errors in the genetic coding of BMPs may manifest as clinical disease entities.