Transforming growth factor beta (TGFbeta), the most established promoter of myofibroblast differentiation, induces ED-A cellular fibronectin and alpha-smooth muscle actin expression in fibroblastic cells in vivo and in vitro. ED-A fibronectin exerts a permissive action for alpha-smooth muscle actin expression. A morphological continuity (called fibronexus), a specialized form of focal adhesion, has been described between actin stress fibers that contain alpha-smooth muscle actin, and extracellular fibronectin, which contains the ED-A portion, in both cultured fibroblasts and granulation tissue myofibroblasts. We have studied the development of these focal adhesions in TGFbeta-treated fibroblasts using confocal laser scanning microscopy, three-dimensional image reconstruction and western blots using antibodies against focal adhesion proteins. The increase in ED-A fibronectin expression induced by TGFbeta was accompanied by bundling of ED-A fibronectin fibers and their association with the terminal portion of alpha-smooth muscle actin-positive stress fibers. In parallel, the focal adhesion size was importantly increased, and tensin and FAK were neoexpressed in focal adhesions; moreover, vinculin and paxillin were recruited from the cytoplasmic pool into focal adhesions. We have evaluated morphometrically the length and area of focal adhesions. In addition, we have evaluated biochemically their content of associated proteins and of alpha-smooth muscle actin after TGFbeta stimulation and on this basis suggest a new focal adhesion classification, that is, immature, mature and supermature. When TGFbeta-induced alpha-smooth muscle actin expression was blocked by soluble recombinant ED-A fibronectin, we observed that the fragment was localised into the fibronectin network at the level of focal adhesions and that focal adhesion supermaturation was inhibited. The same effect was also exerted by the ED-A fibronectin antibody IST-9. In addition, the antagonists of actin-myosin contractility BDM and ML-7 provoked the dispersion of focal adhesions and the decrease of alpha-smooth muscle actin content in stress fibers of pulmonary fibroblasts, which constitutively show large focal adhesions and numerous stress fibers that contain alpha-smooth muscle actin. These inhibitors also decreased the incorporation of recombinant ED-A into fibronectin network. Our data indicate that a three-dimensional transcellular structure containing both ED-A fibronectin and alpha-smooth muscle actin plays an important role in the establishment and modulation of the myofibroblastic phenotype. The organisation of this structure is regulated by intracellularly and extracellularly originated forces.