The polarisation and locomotion of fibroblasts requires an intact microtubule cytoskeleton . This has been attributed to an influence of microtubule-mediated signals on actin cytoskeleton dynamics, either through the generation of active Rac to promote protrusion of lamellipodia , or through the modulation of substrate adhesion via microtubule targeting events  . We show here that the polarizing role of microtubules can be mimicked by externally imposing an asymmetric gradient of contractility by local application of the contractility inhibitor ML-7. Apolar fibroblasts lacking microtubules could be induced to polarize and to move by application of ML-7 by micropipette to one side of the cell and then to the trailing vertices that developed. The release and retraction of trailing adhesions could be correlated with a relaxation of traction on the substrate and a differential shortening of stress-fibre bundles, with their distal tips relaxed. Although retraction and protrusion in these conditions resembled control cell locomotion, the normal turnover of adhesion sites that form behind the protruding cell front was blocked. These findings show that microtubules are dispensable for fibroblast protrusion, but are required for the turnover of substrate adhesions that normally occurs during cell locomotion. We conclude that regional contractility is modulated by the interfacing of microtubule-linked events with focal adhesions and that microtubules determine cell polarity via this route.