Normal human epidermal keratinocytes (KC) grown under conditions that maintain the undifferentiated state are highly motile. Migration of these cells as measured in two different assays (migration out of an agarose drop explant, and into micropore filters in a modified Boyden chamber), is stimulated by fibronectin (FN) and to a lesser extent by thrombospondin (TSP). In contrast, laminin (LN) inhibits KC migration. Cultivation of the cells for 1 day under conditions that induce differentiation (ie, in the presence of 1.4 mM Ca2+) suppresses KC motility. A number of soluble growth modulating polypeptide factors also influence KC migration. Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) and epidermal growth factor (EGF) stimulate KC motility. These factors simultaneously induce KC production of FN and a significant portion of the stimulated motility can be inhibited with antibodies to FN. EGF and somatomedin-C (SM-C), but not TGF-beta, also stimulate TSP production while EGF and SM-C (but not TGF-beta) induce KC proliferation. In contrast to these factors, interferon-gamma (INF-gamma) inhibits KC production of both FN and TSP and concomitantly inhibits both motility and proliferation. These data suggest that KC properties essential for normal wound healing (ie, motility and proliferation) are regulated by both extracellular matrix molecules and soluble peptide factors. Finally, these effects of various growth promoting and antiproliferative factors on KCs may, in part, be mediated through alteration in the endogenous production of extracellular matrix molecules by KCs.