The type beta transforming growth factors (TGF) are potent regulators of the growth and functions of lymphocytes and macrophages. Recently the human glioblastoma cell line 308 was shown to produce TGF-beta 2. The relevance of this finding was evaluated further by comparing human glioblastoma cells with their nontransformed animal counterpart, astrocytes, with regard to the production of the three TGF-beta isoforms observed so far in mammals. In this report astrocytes are demonstrated to secrete also TGF-beta 2 and to express TGF-beta 1, -beta 2, and -beta 3 mRNA in vitro. In contrast, cultured murine brain macrophages release TGF-beta 1 and are positive for TGF-beta 1 mRNA only. Glia cell-derived TGF-beta 1 and -beta 2 are detected in latent form whereas both latent and active TGF-beta are identified in the supernatant of three human glioblastoma cell lines tested. These cell lines, however, show heterogeneity in regard to the isoform of TGF-beta expressed but share with astrocytes the inability to release TGF-beta 3. Provided production and activation of latent TGF-beta occur in vivo, astrocytes and microglia may then be expected to exert regulatory influences on immune mediated diseases of the central nervous system.