This study examined the potential influence of platelet-derived growth factor-BB homodimers (PDGF-BB) on surgical incisions in irradiated animals with depressed wound healing. Rats were irradiated with either 800 rods total body or 2,500 rads surface irradiation. Parallel dorsal skin incisions were made 2 days later, and PDGF-BB was applied topically a single time to one of two incisions. In total body-irradiated rats, bone marrow-derived elements were severely depressed, wound macrophages were virtually eliminated, and PDGF-BB treatment was ineffective. However, in surface-irradiated rats, PDGF-BB treatment recruited macrophages into wounds and partially reversed impaired healing on day 7 (p < 0.005) and day 12 (p < 0.001). PDGF-BB-treated wounds were 50 percent stronger than the paired control wounds. The results suggest PDGF requires bone marrow-derived cells, likely wound macrophages, for activity and that it may be useful as a topical agent in postirradiation surgical incisions.