We have studied the effect of cell density on the lateral diffusion of major histocompatibility (MHC) antigens in the plasma membranes of fibroblasts using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. The percent recovery of fluorescence was decreased in fibroblasts grown in confluent cultures. While recovery of fluorescence was measurable in greater than 90% of the cells from sparse cultures, measurable recovery was detected in only 60-80% of the cells from dense cultures; no mobile antigens were detectable in 20-40% of cells examined. The diffusion coefficient on human skin fibroblast cells that did show recovery was the same for cells grown in sparse or dense conditions. In WI-38, VA-2, and c1 1d cultures the diffusion coefficients of mobile antigens were smaller in cells from dense cultures. Changes in lateral diffusion occurred with increased cell-cell contact and with age of cell culture but were not observed in growth-arrested cells or in sparse cells cultured in medium conditioned by confluent cells. Decreased mobile fractions of MHC antigens were observed when cells were plated on extracellular matrix materials derived from confluent cultures. Treatment of the extracellular matrix materials with a combination of proteolytic enzymes or by enzymes that degrade proteoglycans abolished this effect. Matrices produced by cells from other cell lines were less effective in inducing changes in mobile fractions and purified matrix components alone did not induce changes in lateral diffusion. Finally, there were no differences in the proportion of MHC antigens that were resistant to Triton X-100 extraction in sparse and dense cells. These results suggest that cell-cell interactions mediated through extracellular matrix materials can influence the lateral diffusion of at least part of the population of MHC antigens.

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