The effects of the lysophospholipids, sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) and lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) were studied in human primary osteoblastic cells and the human osteosarcomal cell lines, G292 and MG-63. The studies focused on the role of the Gi protein in the regulation of S1P and LPA-induced proliferation, the effects of the phospholipids on alkaline phosphatase, an early marker of osteoblastic cell proliferation, and the presence of edg receptors. Proliferation was assessed by 3H-thymidine incorporation. Short-term incubation with S1P or LPA induced increases in proliferation that were attenuated in the presence of the Gi inhibitor, pertussis toxin. Alkaline phosphatase activity was measured with a spectrophotometric assay. Biphasic effects of S1P and LPA were observed with the nature of the response dependent upon the cell type, concentration of test agent and the time period of incubation. RTPCR studies revealed that edg-1,2,4,5 receptors are present in the primary normal osteoblastic cells, the MG63 and G292 cells. Only the G292 cells expressed the edg-3 receptor to any significant extent.