The aim of this work was to analyze the mechanism by which fibronectin (FN) regulates capillary endothelial cell proliferation. Endothelial cell growth can be controlled in chemically-defined medium by varying the density of FN coated on the substratum (Ingber, D. E., and J. Folkman. J. Cell Biol. 1989. 109:317-330). In this system, DNA synthetic rates are stimulated by FN in direct proportion to its effect on cell extension (projected cell areas) both in the presence and absence of saturating amounts of basic FGF. To investigate direct growth signaling by FN, we carried out microfluorometric measurements of intracellular pH (pHi), a cytoplasmic signal that is commonly influenced by soluble mitogens. pHi increased 0.18 pH units as FN coating densities were raised and cells progressed from round to spread. Intracellular alkalinization induced by attachment to FN was rapid and followed the time course of cell spreading. When measured in the presence and absence of FGF, the effects of FN and FGF on pHi were found to be independent and additive. Furthermore, DNA synthesis correlated with pHi for all combinations of FGF and FN. Ethylisopropylamiloride, a specific inhibitor of the plasma membrane Na+/H+ antiporter, completely suppressed the effects of FN on both pHi and DNA synthesis. However, cytoplasmic pH per se did not appear to be a critical determinant of growth since DNA synthesis was not significantly inhibited when pHi was lowered over the physiological range by varying the pH of the medium. We conclude that FN and FGF exert their growth-modulating effects in part through activation of the Na+/H+ exchanger, although they appear to trigger this system via separate pathways.

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