Plasma fibronectin promotes modulation of rat arterial smooth muscle cells from a contractile to a synthetic phenotype during the first few days in primary culture. This process includes cell adhesion and spreading, loss of myofilaments, and formation of a widespread rough endoplasmic reticulum and a prominent Golgi complex. The structural reorganization is accompanied by activation of overall RNA and protein synthesis. Moreover, the cells gain the ability to replicate their DNA and divide in response to platelet-derived growth factor. Here, it is demonstrated that the power of fibronectin to bring about this change in the differentiated properties of the smooth muscle cells resides in a 105-kD cell-binding fragment, whereas a 70-kD collagen-binding fragment and a 31-kD heparin-binding fragment are inactive in this respect. Laminin, another adhesive glycoprotein and a component of the basement membrane that normally surrounds arterial smooth muscle, was contrarily found to maintain the cells in a contractile phenotype. However, with increasing time more and more cells went through the modulation into a synthetic phenotype. This "catch-up" was counteracted by a peptide that contained the cell-attachment sequence of fibronectin (Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser). Hence, it is possible that the delayed modulation on laminin was due to production of fibronectin by the cells themselves. In support of this notion, fibronectin isolated from smooth muscle cultures was found to be as effective as plasma fibronectin in stimulating the phenotypic modulation. Moreover, using a combination of chemical, immunochemical, and immunocytochemical methods, it was demonstrated that the cells secreted fibronectin as well as laminin at an increasing rate during the first 4 d in primary culture and, notably, cells cultured on laminin produced more fibronectin than cells cultured on fibronectin. Newly synthesized fibronectin was incorporated into a network of pericellular and intercellular fibrils, whereas laminin formed a more diffuse layer covering the cells in a basement membrane-like manner. Taken together, the findings suggest diverse roles for fibronectin and laminin in the control of the differentiated properties of arterial smooth muscle cells. They further indicate that the ability of arterial smooth muscle cells to produce fibronectin and laminin early in primary culture is not directly related to the phenotypic state as determined morphologically and by measurement of overall rates of RNA and protein synthesis. This may be due to the cells being able to sense the macromolecular composition of the pericellular matrix and to modify their secretory activity accordingly.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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