The purpose of this study was to evaluate specific keratocyte phenotypes (keratocyte, fibroblast, myofibroblast) for cell contractility and ability to contract extracellular matrix. Rabbit keratocyte phenotype was modulated by exposure to optimal proliferative doses of IGF-I, IL-1alpha, FGF2, PDGF-AB, and TGFbeta(1). Cells were then evaluated by immunocytochemistry, western blot, collagen gel contraction and LPA stimulation to measure: (1) focal adhesion (FA), fibronectin (FN) and f-actin assembly; (2) expression of alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA); (3) ability to contract extracellular matrix and (4) determine contractile ability, respectively. Untreated keratocytes showed no ability to contract collagen matrix. IGF-I and IL-1alpha increased cell proliferation (70.2 and 74.3%, respectively) but did not alter keratocyte phenotype or ability to contract matrix. FGF2 and PDGF induced fibroblast differentiation with FA and FN assembly and significant (p<0.05) extracellular matrix contraction. TGFbeta(1) induced myofibroblast differentiation with prominent FA and FN assembly, expression of alpha-SMA and significantly greater (p<0.05) matrix contraction. Addition of LPA induced actin filament assembly in growth factor starved fibroblasts and myofibroblasts but had no effect on the cultured keratocyte phenotype. We report for the first time that the keratocyte phenotype is non-contractile and that cell quiescence is not a defining characteristic. We further establish that changes in environmental conditions modulate the keratocyte phenotype resulting in physiologically functional differences regarding cell contractility and capacity to contract extracellular matrix.