The aims of this study were to clarify the role of cell maturation stage on chondrocyte response to parathyroid hormone (PTH) by examining the effect of PTH(1-34) on alkaline-phosphatase-specific activity (ALPase) of chondrocyte cultures at two distinct stages of maturation, and to determine the signaling pathways used by the cells to mediate this effect. Confluent, fourth passage rat costochondral resting zone (RC) and growth zone (GC) chondrocytes were used. ALPase was measured in the cell layer, as well as in matrix vesicles (MV) and plasma membranes (PM), after the addition of 10(-7) 10(-11) mol/L bovine PTH(1-34), the active peptide, or bovine PTH(3-34), the inactive peptide, to the cultures. PTH(1-34) increased ALPase in the GC cultures at two separate times: between 5 and 180 min, with maximal stimulation at 10 min, and 36 to 48 h. In contrast, PTH(3-34) had no effect. At 10 min and 48 h, PTH(1-34) produced a dose-dependent increase in ALPase of both MV and PM isolated from GC cultures. Addition of forskolin and IBMX to increase cAMP increased ALPase in GC cultures to a level similar to that seen after addition of PTH(1-34). In contrast, the addition of PTH(1-34) to RC cells only increased ALPase between 5 and 60 min, with peak activity at 10 min. As with GC, PTH increased ALPase in both MV and PM. Moreover, the addition of PTH(3-34) or forskolin and IBMX had no effect on ALPase in RC. PTH(1-34) had no effect on GC protein kinase C (PKC) activity; however, the addition of PTH(1-34) to RC caused a dose-dependent increase in PKC activity. H8, an inhibitor of PKA, had no effect on PTH-stimulated ALPase in RC cells, but inhibited the PTH-dependent response in GC cells. In contrast, chelerythrine, an inhibitor of PKC activity, inhibited PTH-stimulated ALPase in RC cells, but had no effect on PTH-stimulated ALPase in GC cells. This study shows that the effect of PTH(1-34) on RC and GC cells is maturation dependent in terms of time course and mechanism. Whereas both cell types exhibit a rapid response to PTH, only GC cells show a long-term response. In GC, the effects of PTH are associated with changes in cAMP and may also involve at least one other pathway, whereas, in RC, the PTH effects appear to be associated with changes in PKC.