The distribution of heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG) on cultured fibroblasts was monitored using an antiserum raised against cell surface HSPG from rat liver. After seeding, HSPG was detected by immunofluorescence first on cell surfaces and later in fibrillar deposits of an extracellular matrix. Cell surface HSPG aligned with microfilament bundles of rat embryo fibroblasts seen by phase-contrast microscopy but was diffuse on transformed rat dermal fibroblasts (16C cells) which lack obvious stress fibers. Focal adhesions isolated from either cell type and monitored by interference reflection microscopy showed a concentration of HSPG labeling with respect to the rest of the membrane. Increased labeling in these areas was also seen for fibronectin (FN) by using an antiserum that detects both plasma and cell-derived FN. Double immunofluorescent staining of fully adherent rat embryo fibroblast cells showed some co-distribution of HSPG and FN, and this was confirmed by immunoelectron microscopy, which detected HSPG at localized areas of dorsal and ventral cell membranes, overlapping cell margins, and in the extracellular matrix. During cell shape changes on rounding and spreading, HSPG and FN may not co-distribute. Double labeling for actin and either HSPG or FN showed a closer correlation of actin with HSPG than with FN. The studies are consistent with HSPG being closely involved in a transmembrane cytoskeletal-matrix interaction; the possibility that HSPG coordinates the deposition of FN and other matrix components with cytoskeletal organization is discussed.

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