Acting through hormonal and/or autocrine/paracrine mechanisms, the insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) stimulate the differentiation of muscle cells. Previous studies have suggested that one mechanism by which IGFs stimulate muscle cell differentiation is by increasing the expression of myogenin, a DNA binding protein that regulates the expression of muscle-specific genes. While exogenous IGF peptides increase myogenin mRNA, the role of endogenously produced IGF peptides in myogenin expression has not been established. In addition, the potential role of IGFs in regulating the expression of Id, a protein in myoblasts that can inhibit the action of myogenin-like peptides, is also unknown. In the present study, we have examined the kinetics of accumulation of myogenin and IGF-II mRNAs during differentiation of BC3H-1 mouse muscle cells and have explored the potential role of IGFs in regulating Id expression. During differentiation induced by serum withdrawal, induction of myogenin expression preceded that of IGF-II, the principal IGF peptide expressed by these cells. In addition, Id expression decreased within two hours in serum-free medium and was not affected by IGF treatment. Thus, these studies suggest that endogenously-produced IGF-II may stimulate muscle cell differentiation after both the decrease in Id and the induction of myogenin gene expression have occurred.