Fibronectin (FN), a large dimeric glycoprotein, functions primarily as a connecting molecule in the extracellular matrices of tissues by mediating both cell-matrix and matrix-matrix interactions. All members of the FN family are products of a single FN gene; heterogeneity arises from the alternative splicing of at least three regions (IIIB, IIIA, and V) during processing of a common primary transcript. During chick embryonic limb chondrogenesis, FN structure changes from B+A+ in precartilage mesenchyme to B+A- in differentiated cartilage, and exon IIIA has been shown to be necessary for the process of mesenchymal cellular condensation, a requisite event that precedes overt expression of chondrocyte phenotype. This study aims to investigate the mechanistic action of the FN isoforms in mesenchymal chondrogenesis and, in particular, to identify the specific cellular function in mesenchymal condensation mediated by the mesenchymal (B+A+) FN isoform. Full-length cDNAs corresponding to four splice variants (B+A+, B+A-, B-A+, B-A-) of FN were constructed, and expressed the corresponding proteins using a baculovirus expression vector system. Cell adhesion assays with purified proteins showed that, although the relative levels of cell attachment were approximately the same, chick limb-bud mesenchymal cells spread up to 40 % less on mesenchymal (B+A+) FN than on cartilage (B+A-) FN, (B-A+) FN, or plasma (B-A-) FN. Cellular condensation and chondrogenic differentiation were also promoted in high-density micromass cultures of limb mesenchymal cells plated onto B+A+ FN. These observations suggest that the process of mesenchymal condensation is mediated at least in part by the enhanced ability of chondrogenic mesenchymal cells to migrate and aggregate as a consequence of residing in and interacting with mesenchymal FN. Our findings are consistent with and provide a mechanistic basis for previous observations that rounding of limb mesenchymal cells precedes the onset of chondrogenesis.