Fluoride (F) is a potent inhibitor of osteoblastic acid phosphatase activity with an apparent Ki value (10 to 100 mumol/L) that corresponds to F concentrations that increase bone cell proliferation and bone formation in vivo and in vitro. This high sensitivity of acid phosphatase to F inhibition appeared to be specific for skeletal tissues. Mitogenic concentrations of F did not increase cellular cAMP levels but significantly stimulated net protein phosphorylation in intact calvarial cells and in isolated calvarial membranes. These concentrations of F also stimulated net membrane-mediated phosphorylation of angiotensin II (which contains tyrosyl but no seryl or threonyl residues), suggesting that some of the F-stimulated protein phosphorylations could occur on tyrosyl residues. F had no apparent effect on thiophosphorylation of membrane proteins, suggesting that the F-stimulated net protein phosphorylation in bone cells was probably not mediated via activation of protein kinases. Orthovanadate or molybdate at concentrations that inhibit bone acid phosphatase activity also stimulated bone cell proliferation, supporting the idea that inhibition of bone acid phosphatase would lead to stimulation of bone cell proliferation. Mitogenic concentrations of F potentiated the mitogenic activities of insulin, EGF, and IGF-1 (ie, growth factors the receptors of which are tyrosyl kinases) to a greater extent than they potentiated the action of basic FGF (a growth factor that does not appear to stimulate tyrosyl protein phosphorylation). Based on these findings, a model is proposed for the biochemical mechanism of the osteogenic action of F in which F stimulates bone cell proliferation by a direct inhibition of an osteoblastic acid phosphatase/phosphotyrosyl protein phosphatase activity, which in turn increases overall cellular tyrosyl phosphorylation, resulting in a subsequent stimulation of bone cell proliferation.