Embryonic chick pelvic cartilages were incubated in the presence of insulin like growth factor (IGF) (1-100 μU/ml), as well as normal human serum (5%), with radiolabelled precursors of proteoglycan (PG) synthesis: L-[3-3H]serine, D-[6-3H]glucosamine and [35S]Na2SO4. IGF alone (1-15 μU/ml), stimulated in a dose-dependent manner D-[6-3H]glucosamine incorporation into tissue-bound and soluble isolated glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chains. L-[3-3H]serine incorporation into PG molecules was not stimulated by IGF (1-100 μU/ml), despite the increase in the uptake of this precursor into intact cartilage. [35S]Na2SO4 incorporation was unaffected by IGF. Serum promoted the uptake of all three precursors into tissue-bound glycosaminoglycans. It was postulated that IGF could stimulate proteoglycan synthesis not only by elongating existing chondroitin sulphate chains but also by increased synthesis of other sugar chains e.g. keratan sulphate and oligosaccharides.