The influence of collagen gels on the orientation of the polarity of epithelial thyroid cells in culture was studied under four different conditions. (a) Isolated cells cultured on the surface of a collagen gel formed a monolayer. The apical pole was in contact with the culture medium and the basal membrane was attached to the substratum. (b) Isolated cells embedded inside the gel organized within 8 into follicles. The basal pole was in contact with collagen and the apical pole was oriented towards the interior of the follicular lumen. (c) Cells were first organized into floating vesicles, structures in which the apical surface is in contact with the culture medium, and the vesicles were embedded inside the collagen gel. After 3 d, cell polarity was inverted, the apical pole being oriented towards the cavity encompassed by cells. Vesicles had been transformed into follicles. (d) Monolayers formed on collagen gels as in a were overlaid with a second layer of collagen, which was polymerized in contact with the apical cell surface. A disorganization of the continuous pavement occurred within 24 h; cells attached to the upper layer of collagen and reorganized into follicles in the collagen sandwich within 4-8 d. A similar process occurred when the monolayer was grown on plastic and overlaid with collagen, or grown on collagen and covered with small pieces of glass cover slips. No reorganization was observed between two glass surfaces. In conclusion, first, a basal pole was always formed in the area of contact between the cell membrane and an adhesive surface and, second, the interaction of a preformed apical pole with an adhesive surface was not compatible with the stability of this domain of the plasma membrane. The interaction of the cell membrane with extracellular components having adhesive properties appears to be a determinant factor in the orientation and stabilization of epithelial cell polarity.

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