The overproduction of fibronectin and type I collagen in keloids and hypertrophic scars implicates altered regulation of extracellular matrix components as an important aspect of these wound healing pathologies. However, little is known about the similarities and differences in extracellular matrix gene expression during normal and abnormal wound healing. This study compared the content of fibronectin messenger RNA and rates of fibronectin protein biosynthesis in fibroblasts derived from normal skin, normal scar, keloid, and hypertrophic scar. Fibronectin expression was enhanced in cells from both normal and abnormal wounds relative to cells from quiescent normal skin. Matched pairs of normal and keloid fibroblasts from the same individuals were also compared, and three of the four pairs showed higher fibronectin expression by the keloid cells at the levels of messenger RNA and protein synthesis. This was consistent with previous studies showing elevated steady state content of fibronectin in keloid cells relative to normal cells from the same individual. Fibronectin messenger RNA and protein content in the tissues from which these cells were derived was examined by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. These studies revealed that in vivo, the steady state content of fibronectin messenger RNA and protein was highest in abnormal wounds, less in most normal scars, and lowest in normal skin. Thus, fibroblasts from keloids and hypertrophic scars overexpressed fibronectin in vivo relative to normal skin and normal scar and retain this characteristic in vitro relative to normal skin. Although normal scars contained little fibronectin protein and messenger RNA, cultured fibroblasts derived from these scars had contents of fibronectin messenger RNA and rates of biosynthesis in vitro similar to those of keloid fibroblasts. This indicates that the fibronectin regulatory pathway in scar fibroblasts is influenced by the tissue environment. These results are discussed with respect to the relationship of fibronectin expression in keloids, hypertrophic scars, and normal wounds in human beings.