The biological events occurring at the bone-implant interface are influenced by the topography, chemistry and wettability of the implant surface. The surface properties of titanium alloy prepared by either surface sol-gel processing (SSP), or by passivation with nitric acid, were investigated systematically using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy and contact angle metrology. The bioreactivity of the substrates was assessed by evaluating MC3T3-E1 osteoblastic cell adhesion, as well as by in vitro formation of mineralized matrix. Surface analysis of sol-gel-derived oxide on Ti6Al4 V substrates showed a predominantly titanium dioxide (TiO2) composition with abundant hydroxyl groups. The surface was highly wettable, rougher and more porous compared to that of the passivated substrate. Significantly more cells adhered to the sol-gel-coated surface, as compared with passivated surfaces, at 1 and 24 h following cell seeding, and a markedly greater number of mineralized nodules were observed on sol-gel coatings. Collectively our results show that the surface properties of titanium alloy can be modified by SSP to enhance the bioreactivity of this biomaterial. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.