Several biological effects of recombinant PDGF-BB and PDGF obtained from human platelets were examined with vascular smooth muscle cells. Although PDGF and PDGF-BB were equally potent mitogens for these cells, 5 fold higher levels of PDGF were required to displace 125I-PDGF-BB binding than PDGF-BB itself. Higher concentrations of PDGF relative to PDGF-BB were also required to stimulate the phosphorylation of a 163K protein in membrane preparations. PDGF-BB, but not PDGF, treatment of intact cells resulted in the phosphorylation on tyrosine residues of 168, 53, 48, and 45K proteins. The data suggest that PDGF and PDGF-BB stimulate smooth muscle cell mitogenesis by different mechanisms.