To address the relation between osteoblast growth and cell-to-cell communication, we examined the effects of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA), both potent stimulators of osteoblastic proliferation, on gap junctional intercellular communication between osteoblastic MC3T3-E1 cells. The level of intercellular communication was estimated by a photobleaching method. TPA inhibited the degree of intercellular communication in two different time-dependent manners. The early (<1 h) inhibition by TPA was consistent with an increase in the phosphorylation of connexin 43 (Cx43). The later inhibition was caused by reduction in the total amount of Cx43 on the plasma membrane, due to the decrease in the level of Cx43 transcripts. These qualitative and quantitative modulations by TPA were inhibited by a selective inhibitor of protein kinase C, GF109203X. bFGF also attenuated the gap junctional intercellular communication. However, short exposure (<5 h) to bFGF did not affect the communication. The fact that the growth factor immediately stimulated the phosphorylation of Cx43 indicates that the phosphorylation site(s) affected by bFGF was not involved in the inhibition of communication. The decrease in the intercellular communication level was detected by the longer exposure (>8 h) to bFGF and paralleled the decline in the Cx-mRNA level. This inhibitory effect of bFGF was abolished by the addition of a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, herbimycin A. Thus, gap junctional intercellular communication between osteoblasts was down-regulated by osteoblastic mitogens through different mechanisms of the modulation of Cx43.