Phenotypic and functional characteristics of tumor associated fibroblasts (TAF) in contrast to normal fibroblasts are reviewed in this first synopsis (part I). Terms as tumor stroma, desmo-plasia, TAF, myofibroblast, and fetal-type fibroblast are defined, and experimental systems to study heterologous cell interactions are presented. While we only start to gather information on the genotype of TAF, a broad range of data deals with the expression profile of these cells, covering e.g. ECM and ECM-modulating molecules, growth factors and cytokines. Summarizing the recent state of knowledge indicates that TAF provide sources for tumor diagnosis and therapy, that have to be further defined in an organ-specific approach in terms of the functional impact on the tumor cell and its environment (see part II).