We have previously shown that fibrinogen (fg) acts as a subendothelial matrix protein in promoting human endothelial cell (EC) adhesion and cytoskeletal organization. In this study we report that EC spreading on fg, at variance with other matrix proteins, requires endogenous matrix protein synthesis and secretion. ECs, upon seeding on fg, promptly released and organized a fibronectin (fn) matrix. Fg was more effective than vitronectin (vn) in promoting the deposition of this protein. ECs treated with monensin to block matrix protein secretion still adhered to fg but did not properly organize their cytoskeleton and adhesion structures. In contrast, monensin did not affect EC spreading either on vn or on fn. Using antibodies to the alpha and beta chains of fn (alpha 5 beta 1) and vn (alpha v beta 3) receptors, it was found that ECs adherent to fg show clustering and organization in adhesion structures of both type of receptors. A faint staining of adhesion structures with alpha 2 but not alpha 3 and alpha 6 antibodies was also observed. Antibodies either to vn or fn receptors were able to disrupt the EC monolayer and to induce EC retraction and detachment, thus indicating that both receptors are important in maintaining a sustained EC adhesion to fg. However, when ECs were treated with monensin only the vn receptor was organized in adhesion structures while the fn receptor was diffusely distributed. This suggests that clustering of the fn receptor is mediated by the release of endogenous matrix proteins induced by the exposure to fg. In conclusion, fg has a peculiar and complex type of interaction with ECs since it requires endogenous matrix protein release and the recruitment of more than one adhesive receptor. This suggests a specific way of response of ECs to each extracellular matrix component.