The results reported here show that sodium fluoride (NaF) at low concentration (up to 10 microM) increased four times the proliferation rate of avian osteoblasts in culture. Also NaF increases, in a concentration dependent manner, 10 times the alkaline phosphatase activity. However, NaF decreased the incorporation of 35S-sulfate into proteoglycans (PGs) synthesized by osteoblasts (60-65%). Also, we observed that PGs synthesized in the presence of NaF (50 microM) exhibited a higher sensitivity to chondroitinase ABC than PGs synthesized by osteoblasts in the absence of NaF, suggesting an increase in the chondroitin sulfate moieties associated with the core protein of PGs. The modification of glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chains composition was evidenced also by change in the mean charge density of the PGs observed by ion exchange chromatography. Since the ratio of 35SO4/3H-glucosamine incorporated into PGs was similar in the presence and in the absence of NaF (8.2 and 7, respectively), it is not possible to explain differences in mean charge density by changes in the sulfation extent of PGs. No differences were observed in the hydrodynamic size of PG synthesized in the presence of NaF, nor in the hydrodynamic size of the GAG chains. According to these results, we speculate that the stimulatory effect of fluoride on bone mineralization may be mediated, in part, by the changes in the rate of synthesis or in the structural characteristics of bone PGs. The changes produced by fluoride in PGs suggest that these molecules play an inhibitory role in the bone mineralization process.