Maintenance of fibroblasts in 0.5% serum results in viable but non-proliferative cells that may be analogous to fibroblasts in vivo. The synthesis of proteoglycans by human embryo lung fibroblasts in Eagle's minimal essential medium with 0.5% newborn-bovine serum or with 10% serum has been compared. A similar amount of [35S]sulphate-labelled glycosaminoglycan per cell was secreted by fibroblasts in 10% or 0.5% serum. 35SO42-incorporation into sulphated glycosaminoglycans was enhanced in 0.5% serum when expressed per mg of cell protein, but [3H]glucosamine incorporation was decreased. The charge density of these glycosaminoglycans was not changed as determined by ion-exchange chromatography. It was concluded that decreased protein/ cell resulted in an apparent increase in 35S-labelled glycosaminoglycan synthesis/mg of cell protein, whereas decreased uptake of [3H]glucosamine resulted in a decrease in their glucosamine labelling. The proteoglycans secreted by fibroblasts in 0.5% serum were similar in glycosaminoglycan composition, chain length and buoyant density to the dermatan sulphate proteoglycan, which is the major secreted component of cells in 10% serum. Larger heparan sulphate and chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans, which comprise about 40% of the total secreted proteoglycans of cultures in 10% serum, were greatly diminished in the medium of cultures in 0.5% serum. The proteoglycan profile of medium from density-inhibited cultures in 10% serum resembles that of proliferating cultures, indicating that lack of proliferation was not responsible for the alteration. The dermatan sulphate proteoglycan, participating in extracellular matrix structure, may be the primary tissue product of lung fibroblasts in vivo.

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