The differentiated human hepatoblastoma-derived cell line, HepG2, displayed two classes of specific membrane receptors for heparin-binding growth factor type 1 (HBGF-1). Specific membrane receptors were distinguished from nonreceptor heparin-like binding sites. Receptors with an apparent Kd of 9.2 +/- 0.9 pM and present at 15,000 +/- 900/cell correlated with HBGF-1 stimulation of HepG2 growth. Receptors with an apparent Kd of 2 +/- 0.4 nM and present at 180,000 +/- 18,000/cell correlated with inhibition of growth and changes in secretory products. Other hepatoma cell lines exhibited a simple positive mitogenic response to HBGF-1 and a single class of high affinity binding sites. HBGF-1 covalently cross-linked to hepatoma cell surface polypeptides of apparent mean molecular mass of 130 kilodaltons. At 37 degrees C, receptor-bound HBGF-1 was internalized (t 1/2 = 45 min) but not degraded for up to 6 h. The display of receptors decreased with increased cell density and expression of HBGF-1 mRNA and HBGF-1-like activity in the culture medium. Proliferating normal human hepatocytes also exhibited two classes of binding sites with affinities for HBGF-1 and apparent molecular weight similar to HepG2 cells. These results implicate HBGF-1 or homologues in human hepatoma cell growth and normal liver cell regeneration.