The synovium from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and LEW/N rats with streptococcal cell wall (SCW) arthritis, an experimental model resembling RA, is characterized by massive proliferation of synovial connective tissues and invasive destruction of periarticular bone and cartilage. Since heparin binding growth factor (HBGF)-1, the precursor of acidic fibroblast growth factor (FGF), is a potent angiogenic polypeptide and mitogen for mesenchymal cells, we sought evidence that it was involved in the synovial pathology of RA and SCW arthritis. HBGF-1 mRNA was detected in RA synovium using the polymerase chain reaction technique, and its product was immunolocalized intracellularly in both RA and osteoarthritis (OA) synovium. HBGF-1 staining was more extensive and intense in synovium of RA patients than OA and correlated with the extent and intensity of synovial mononuclear cell infiltration. HBGF-1 staining also correlated with c-Fos protein staining. In SCW arthritis, HBGF-1 immunostaining was noted in bone marrow, bone, cartilage, synovium, ligamentous and tendinous structures, as well as various dermal structures and developed early in both T-cell competent and incompetent rats. Persistent high level immunostaining of HBGF-1 was only noted in T-cell competent rats like the disease process in general. These observations implicate HBGF-1 in a multitude of biological functions in inflammatory joint diseases.