Mov13 fibroblasts, which do not express endogenous alpha 1(I) collagen chains due to a retroviral insertion, were used to study the role of type I collagen in the process of fibronectin fibrillogenesis. While Mov13 cells produced a sparse matrix containing short fibronectin fibrils, transfection with a wild type pro alpha 1(I) collagen gene resulted in the production of an extensive matrix containing fibronectin fibrils of normal length. To study the amino acids involved in the fibronectin-collagen interaction, mutations were introduced into the known fibronectin binding region of the pro alpha 1(I) collagen gene. Substitution of Gln and Ala at positions 774 and 777 of the alpha 1(I) chain for Pro resulted in the formation of short fibronectin fibrils similar to what was observed in untransfected Mov13 cells. Type I collagen carrying these substitutions bound weakly to fibronectin-sepharose and could be eluted off with 1 M urea. The effect of this mutation on fibronectin fibrillogenesis could be rescued by adding either type I collagen or a peptide fragment (CB.7) which contained the wild type fibronectin binding region of the alpha 1(I) chain to the cell culture. These results suggest that fibronectin fibrillogenesis in tissue culture is dependent on type I collagen synthesis, and define an important role for the fibronectin binding site in this process.