Culture conditions can modify the composition of the extracellular matrix of cultured calf aortas smooth muscle cells. In the absence of ascorbate the major components of the matrix are microfibrillar proteins; deposition of collagen occurs upon ascorbate supplementation and, with increased time of exposure of cells to ascorbate, collagen becomes the dominant protein of the extracellular matrix (greater than 80%). Collagen accumulation follows a sigmoidal time-course, suggesting that it is a cooperative phenomenon. Covalent crosslinks are not required for collagen accumulation in the matrix. Microfibrillar proteins and increased amounts of proteoglycans and fibronectin accumulate concurrently with collagen but elastin deposition was not observed either with or without ascorbate feeding. Addition of ascorbate leads to a general stimulation of incorporation of [14C]proline into cellular protein and to changes in cell growth parameters and morphology: cell-doubling time decreases from 62 to 47 h and plating efficiency increases approximately fourfold. We conclude that the composition of the extracellular matrix assembled by cultured cells is subject to experimental manipulation and that changes in endogenously deposited matrix may have significant effects on cellular functions.

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