This study examines effects of alpha(2)-macroglobulin (alpha(2)M) on adhesion of fibroblasts. Native alpha(2)M and transformed form of alpha(2)M, alpha(2)M-plasmin, were bound to plastic. Adhesion of mouse L929 and human embryo M-19 fibroblasts to immobilized alpha(2)M was estimated under various conditions by counting adherent cells using videomicroscopy and computer-assisted image analysis. alpha(2)M-plasmin, bound to plastic, induced adhesion and spreading of mouse L929 and human M-19 fibroblasts. Neither native alpha(2)M nor plasmin alone did not induce fibroblast adhesion. The adhesion to alpha(2)M-plasmin was undetectable at 4 degrees C, as well as when sodium azide was added or divalent ions were removed. These findings provide novel information on alpha(2)M functions. On the basis of these observations we hypothesized that alpha(2)M, immobilized in the extracellular matrix, can participate in the regulation of microenvironment effects on the cells, and, in particular, influence on fibroblast adhesion.