Production of a bifidogenic growth stimulator (BGS) by propionic acid bacteria was investigated under anaerobic and aerobic culture conditions. To measure the concentration of extracellular BGS produced by propionic acid bacteria, we evaluated the effects of bioassay conditions using Bifidobacterium longum as a test microorganism on the formation of a growth-stimulation zone. The diameter of the growth-stimulation zone was significantly affected by both the component concentrations and the pH of a bioassay medium. The optimum component concentrations and pH of a bioassay medium were one-half of the normal values and 8.5, respectively. Using the bioassay method, we can measure the concentration of BGS produced by propionic acid bacteria ranging in concentrations from 0.1 microg/l to 1 mg/l using 1,4-dihydroxy-2-naphthoic acid (DHNA) and 2-amino-3-carboxy-1,4-naphthoquinone (ACNQ) as standards. Of six dairy propionic acid bacterial strains tested, the four strains (Propionibacterium freudenreichii ET-3, P. shermanii PZ-3, P. acidipropionici JCM 6432, and P. jensenii JCM 6433) produced BGS at a concentration range of 4-23 mg/l under the anaerobic culture conditions. Analysis of high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) showed that more than 70% of total BGS produced in supernatant samples was DHNA and no ACNQ was produced by the strains. The effect of oxygen supply on BGS production was investigated for the four BGS-producing strains. The aerobic conditions exerted in positive effects on BGS production by only P. acidipropionici JCM 6432. The concentration of BGS obtained in the aerobic cultivation of P. acidipropionici JCM 6432 was 1.3-fold than that in anaerobic cultivation. Different properties (BGS production as well as cell growth and glucose metabolism) occurring in response to the aerobic conditions were observed, depending on the propionic acid bacterial strain used. This paper is the first report on BGS production by propionibacterial strains except for P. freudenreichii.