Monoclonal antibodies recognizing extra domain A (ED-A) and extra domain B (ED-B) fibronectin (FN) sequences were used to characterize FN variants expressed in human vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) during fetal and postnatal development and to compare spectrum of FN variants produced by vascular and visceral SMC. In 8- to 12-week-old fetuses both ED-A-containing FN (A-FN) and ED-B-containing FN (B-FN) were found in all smooth muscles studied--aorta, esophagus, stomach, and jejunum. By 20-25 weeks of gestation relative amounts of both A-FN and B-FN were reduced significantly in the aortic media (fivefold for A-FN and twofold for B-FN), while in visceral SMC only B-FN content was decreased. All the adult visceral smooth muscles examined contained A-FN rather than B-FN. Therefore, the cells from adult aortic media appear to be the only SMC so far known to produce FN that contains neither ED-A nor ED-B. Moreover, the data obtained show that, unlike other cells, medial SMC are embedded in vivo in the extracellular matrix that contains FN lacking both ED-A and ED-B. SMC from the minor intimal thickenings in the human child aorta as well as those from the atherosclerotic plaques produce A-FN rather than B-FN. We conclude that (1) vascular SMC change the spectrum of produced FN variants at least twice--during prenatal development between 12 and 20 weeks of gestation, and during the postnatal period, when they are recruited into the intimal cell population; (2) the production of FN variants in visceral SMC is also developmentally regulated; (3) all visceral SMC unlike the cells from adult aortic media produce A-FN; (4) the presence of ED-A and ED-B sequences in the FN molecule is not necessary for the extracellular matrix assembly in vivo.