Little is known about the role of neurotrophic growth factors in bone metabolism. This study investigated the short-term effects of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) on calvarial-derived MC3T3-E1 osteoblasts. MC3T3-E1 expressed GDNF as well as its canonical receptors, GFRα1 and RET. Addition of recombinant GDNF to cultures in serum-containing medium modestly inhibited cell growth at high concentrations; however, under serum-free culture conditions GDNF dose-dependently increased cell proliferation. GDNF effects on cell growth were inversely correlated with its effect on alkaline phosphatase (AlP) activity showing a significant dose-dependent inhibition of relative AlP activity with increasing concentrations of GDNF in serum-free culture medium. Live/dead and lactate dehydrogenase assays demonstrated that GDNF did not significantly affect cell death or survival under serum-containing and serum-free conditions. The effect of GDNF on cell growth was abolished in the presence of inhibitors to GFRα1 and RET indicating that GDNF stimulated calvarial osteoblasts via its canonical receptors. Finally, this study found that GDNF synergistically increased tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α)-stimulated MC3T3-E1 cell growth suggesting that GDNF interacted with TNF-α-induced signaling in osteoblastic cells. In conclusion, this study provides evidence for a direct, receptor-mediated effect of GDNF on osteoblasts highlighting a novel role for GDNF in bone physiology.