Angiostatin, a 38 kDa fragment of plasminogen, potently inhibits the growth of blood vessels. Angiostatin is generated from plasminogen by urokinase-type (uPA) and tissue-type (tPA) plasminogen activators in the presence of free sulphydryl donors. Angiogenesis inhibitors may be important in regulating angiogenesis in developing goitre. We have examined angiostatin formation in human primary thyrocyte cultures and a rat thyrocyte cell line (FRTL-5). We found that human thyroid cells in culture secrete plasminogen activators (both tPA and uPA) as well as matrix metalloproteinase 2 into the medium. When human thyrocyte conditioned medium was incubated with plasminogen (10 mug/ml) and N-acetylcysteine (100 muM) for 24 h, a 38 kDa fragment of plasminogen, which is consistent with angiostatin, was generated. The appearance of the 38 kDa fragment was increased by agents that increase cAMP (forskolin and 8 BrcAMP). FRTL-5 cells, which do not secrete uPA or tPA, did not generate angiostatin. Thyroid cells produce several angiogenic growth factors, and human thyrocyte conditioned medium stimulated growth of endothelial cells. When the conditioned medium was incubated with plasminogen and N-acetylcysteine, this stimulatory effect was lost, consistent with the production of a growth inhibitory factor. We conclude that thyroid cells can produce angiostatin from plasminogen in vitro, and this may play a role in vivo in limiting goitre size.