We characterized mechanisms of growth control involving insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), IGF-2, and IGF-1 receptor (IGF-1R) by investigating their expression in human cervical cancer cell lines, primary cervical tumor cell cultures, and normal ectocervical epithelial cells maintained in short-term culture. By reverse transcription followed by PCR, IGF-1 mRNA was not detected in any of the cell lines, whereas IGF-2 mRNA transcripts were detected in all of them. Using the RNase protection assay, low levels of IGF-2 mRNA were also detected in all of the cervical cancer cell lines, primary cervical tumor cell cultures, and normal ectocervical cultures tested, but no IGF-1 transcripts were detected. Scatchard analysis revealed 3- and 5-fold increases in IGF-1R expression by the primary cervical cancer cell cultures and cervical cancer cell lines, respectively, compared with the normal ectocervical cells. In proliferation assays, epidermal growth factor (EGF) consistently enhanced cervical cancer cell growth, but an antisense oligonucleotide to IGF-2 uniformly inhibited the EGF-induced mitogenic effect. These studies suggest that autocrine production of IGF-2 and overexpression of the IGF-1R are important components controlling the proliferation of cervical carcinoma cells, and that autocrine IGF-2 production in cervical cancer cells may participate in the mitogenic signaling of EGF.