The bovine aortic endothelial cell (BAEC) cytoskeleton is a complex structure modulated by many stimuli including release from contact inhibition and various components of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Transduction of information from the ECM to the cell nucleus proceeds via several complex pathways including the cytoskeleton. We have demonstrated the presence of an immunoreactive isoform of the human erythrocyte cytoskeletal protein band 4.1 (4.1) in BAEC. BAEC 4.1 is similar in molecular weight to the erythroid protein by immunoblot analyses and produces a similar pattern of cysteine specific cleavage products consistent with a cluster of cysteine residues previously described in the erythroid molecule. We have also examined the effects of defined ECM proteins on the distributions of cultured BAEC 4.1 and actin filaments (AF) at confluency and following release from contact inhibition. The distribution of 4.1 in BAEC on a plasma fibronectin substrate is complex, having partial codistribution with cytoplasmic AF and a unique perinuclear staining. In contrast, on a collagen type I/III substrate, 4.1 is localized, in part, to peripheral areas of cell-cell contact distinct from the dense peripheral band staining of AF. During migration on this substrate, 4.1 had a filamentous distribution having partial codistribution with AF. Indirect immunofluorescence staining of cross-sections of bovine calf aortae revealed a cortical staining pattern in the aortic endothelial cells with staining noted on the luminal and basolateral aspects of the cells. These data suggest that, in endothelial cells, protein 4.1 is a cortical membrane protein which may function to link actin filaments to other skeletal proteins such as spectrin. These findings also suggest an active role for protein 4.1 in cytoskeletal reorganization events which can occur in response to external stimuli, such as the extracellular matrix or contact with other cells.