The runt family transcription factor (AML-3/PEBP2αA1/Cbfa1/RUNX2) plays a crucial role in formation of the mineralized skeleton during embryogenesis and regulates maturation of the osteoblast phenotype. Because steroid hormones and growth factors significantly influence growth and differentiation properties of osteoblasts, we addressed Cbfa1 as a target gene for regulation by dexamethasone (Dex), 1,25(OH)D3 (vitamin D3), 17β-estradiol, and transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1). The representation of functional protein levels by Western blot analyses and gel mobility shift assays was examined during the growth and mineralization of several conditionally immortalized human osteoblast cell lines HOB 04-T8, 03-CE6, and 03-CE10, each representing different stages of maturation. In situ immunofluorescence demonstrates Cbfa1 is associated with nuclear matrix in punctate domains, some of which are transcriptionally active, colocalizing with phosphorylated RNA polymerase II. Although each of the cell lines exhibited different responses to the steroid hormones and to TGF-β1, all cell lines showed a similar increase in Cbfa1 protein and DNA binding activity induced only by Dex. On the other hand, Cbfa1 mRNA levels were not altered by Dex treatment. This regulation of Cbfa1 by steroid hormones in human osteoblasts contrasts to modifications in Cbfa1 expression in primary rat calvarial osteoblasts and the mouse MC3T3-E1 osteoblast cell line. Thus, these results reveal multiple levels of regulation of Cbfa1 expression and activity in osteoblasts. Moreover, the data suggest that in committed human osteoblasts, constitutive expression of Cbfa1 may be required to sustain the osteoblast phenotype. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.