Irradiation is a well established therapeutical concept to prevent heterotopic ossification after joint replacement. The influence of irradiation on proliferation of mature osteoblasts and their potential osteoprogenitors, matrix formation and mineralization are not well known in this setting. We therefore studied the effect of different doses of ionizing irradiation on the several steps of osteogenesis in vitro, using cells isolated from the juvenile rat. A colony forming test, the MTT-viability assay, a cell count, measurement of the cellular protein content and alkaline phosphatase activity, as well as determination of in vitro mineralisation have been applied to calvarian osteoblasts, fibroblasts and stromal bone marrow cells. Irradiation results in a dose-dependent suppression of clonogenic activity in all mitotically active cells, but metabolic activity and matrix synthesis were not impaired. In dense cultures alkaline phosphatase expression and in vitro mineralisation were not significantly affected by irradiation. Our experimental in vitro data suggest that irradiation inhibits the initial phase of in vivo osteogenesis due to the cytostatic effect. Postoperative irradiation after THR must therefore take place as early as possible. The homoeostasis of normal, orthotopic bone does not seem to be severely affected by local low-dose irradiation.