PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to compare osteoblast behavior on zirconia and titanium under conditions cultured with bone morphogenetic protein-2. METHODS: MC3T3-E1 cells were cultured on sandblasted zirconia and sandblasted/etched titanium discs. At 24 hours after seeding MC3T3-E1, the demineralized bone matrix (DBM) gel alone and the DBM gel with bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) were added to the culture medium. The surface topography was examined by confocal laser scanning microscopy. Cellular proliferation was measured at 1, 4, and 7 days after gel loading. Alkaline phosphatase activity was measured at 7 days after gel loading. The mRNA expression of ALPase, bone sialoprotein, type I collagen, runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx-2), osteocalcin, and osterix were evaluated by real-time polymerase chain reaction at 4 days and 7 days. RESULTS: At 1, 4, and 7 days after loading the DBM gel alone and the DBM gel with BMP-2, cellular proliferation on the zirconia and titanium discs was similar and that of the groups cultured with the DBM gel alone and the DBM gel with BMP-2 was not significantly different, except for titanium with BMP-2 gel. ALPase activity was higher in the cells cultured with BMP-2 than in the other groups, but there was no difference between the zirconia and titanium. In ALPase, bone sialoprotein, osteocalcin, Runx-2 and osterix gene expression, that of cells on zirconia or titanium with BMP-2 gel was much more highly increased than titanium without gel at day 7. The gene expression level of cells cultured on zirconia with BMP-2 was higher than that on titanium with BMP-2 at day 7. CONCLUSIONS: The data in this study demonstrate that the osteoblastic cell attachment and proliferation of zirconia were comparable to those of titanium. With the stimulation of BMP-2, zirconia has a more pronounced effect on the proliferation and differentiation of the osteoblastic cells compared with titanium.