Cultivation of human melanocytes requires several growth factors for cell proliferation. For example, basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) is an essential growth agent for melanocyte proliferation in vitro and has been proposed to be an autocrine growth factor in human melanoma cells. Studies using either anti-bFGF antibodies or antisense oligonucleotides partially inhibited the proliferation of human melanoma cells. However, one group was unable to detect bFGF RNA transcripts in human melanoma cells using a human complementary DNA probe. These contradictory results prompted us to investigate the bFGF gene expression in human primary melanocytes and metastatic melanoma cells using Southern, Northern, and Western blot analyses. No gross rearrangements in the bFGF gene were detected in the genomic DNA. Although high levels of bFGF RNA transcripts were detected in melanocytes, no bFGF protein was detected using Western blot analysis. In contrast, melanoma cells expressed much lower levels of bFGF RNA transcripts, and cells from three of four cell strains synthesized the multiple isoforms of bFGF protein. In one of the melanoma cell strains, no bFGF protein was detected using Western blot analysis. Although three of four melanoma cell strains expressed bFGF protein, this molecule does not appear to function as an autocrine growth factor, and expression of the bFGF protein was not a consistent alteration in all melanoma cell strains.