The presence of basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was investigated in neuronal cells derived from 12 and 18 week-old human fetal brain cultures. To this purpose, the ability of bFGF to stimulate plasminogen activator (PA) production in fetal bovine aortic endothelial GM 7373 cells was used as an assay for this molecule in neuronal cell extracts. The identity of the PA-stimulating activity of neuronal cell extract with bFGF was confirmed by its high affinity for heparin and by its cross-reactivity with polyclonal antibodies to human placental bFGF. These antibodies recognized a Mr 18,000 cell-associated protein both in Western blot and in immuno-precipitation experiments. All the neurons showed bFGF immunoreactivity, as demonstrated by immunocytochemical staining, while nonneuronal cells were unstained. The data demonstrate for the first time that cultured human fetal brain neurons contain and synthesize bFGF.