The nacre layer from the pearl oyster shell is considered as a promising osteoinductive biomaterial. Nacre contains one or more signal molecules capable of stimulating bone formation. The identity and the mode of action of these molecules on the osteoblast differentiation were analyzed. Water-soluble molecules from nacre were fractionated according to dialysis, solvent extraction and reversed-phase HPLC. The activity of a fraction composed of low molecular weight molecules in the mineralization of the MC3T3-E1 extracellular matrix was investigated. Mineralization of the preosteoblast cells was monitored according to alizarin red staining, Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy and quantitative RT-PCR. Molecules isolated from nacre, ranging from 50 to 235 Da, induced a red alizarin staining of the preosteoblasts extracellular matrix after 16 days of culture. Raman spectroscopy demonstrated the presence of hydroxyapatite in samples treated with these molecules. Scanning electron microscopy pictures showed at the surface of the treated cells the occurence of clusters of spherical particles ressembling to hydroxyapatite. The treatment of cells with nacre molecules accelerated expression of collagen I and increased the mRNA expression of Runx2 and osteopontin. This study indicated that the nacre molecules efficient in bone cell differentiation are certainly different from proteins, and could be useful for in vivo bone repair.