The surface treatment of polystyrene, which is required to make polystyrene suitable for cell adhesion and spreading, was investigated. Examination of surfaces treated with sulfuric acid or various oxidizing agents using (a) x-ray photoelectron and attenuated total reflection spectroscopy and (b) measurement of surface carboxyl-, hydroxyl-, and sulfur-containing groups by various radiochemical methods showed that sulfuric acid produces an insignificant number of sulfonic acid groups on polystyrene. This technique together with various oxidation techniques that render surfaces suitable for cell culture generated high surface densities of hydroxyl groups. The importance of surface hydroxyl groups for the adhesion of baby hamster kidney cells or leukocytes was demonstrated by the inhibition of adhesion when these groups were blocked: blocking of carboxyl groups did not inhibit adhesion and may raise the adhesion of a surface. These results applied to cell adhesion in the presence and absence of serum. The relative unimportance of fibronectin for the adhesion and spreading of baby hamster kidney cells to hydroxyl-rich surfaces was concluded when cells spread on such surfaces after protein synthesis was inhibited with cycloheximide, fibronectin was removed by trypsinization, and trypsin activity was stopped with leupeptin.

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