Plasma fibronectin binds saturably and reversibly to substrate-attached fibroblasts and is subsequently incorporated into the extracellular matrix (McKeown-Longo, P.J., and D. F. Mosher, 1983, J. Cell Biol., 97:466-472). We examined whether fragments of fibronectin are processed in a similar way. The amino-terminal 70,000-mol-wt catheptic D fragment of fibronectin bound reversibly to cell surfaces with the same affinity as intact fibronectin but did not become incorporated into extracellular matrix. The 70,000-mol-wt fragment blocked binding of intact fibronectin to cell surfaces and incorporation of intact fibronectin into extracellular matrix. Binding of the 70,000-mol-wt fragment to cells was partially abolished by cleavage into 27,000-mol-wt heparin-binding and 40,000-mol-wt gelatin-binding fragments and more completely abolished by reduction and alkylation of disulfide bonds. Binding of the 70,000-mol-wt fragment to cells was not blocked by gelatin or heparin. When coated onto plastic, the 70,000-mol-wt fragment did not mediate attachment and spreading of suspended fibroblasts. Conversely, fibronectin fragments that had attachment and spreading activity did not block binding of exogenous fibronectin to substrate-attached cells. These results indicate that there is a cell binding site in the 70,000-mol-wt fragment that is distinct from the previously described cell attachment site and is required for assembly of exogenous fibronectin into extracellular matrix.

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