We have investigated the expression and cellular source of vitronectin in colorectal adenocarcinoma. Immunofluorescence staining of tissue sections revealed the presence of vitronectin in the stroma of the 11 tumors studied, but not in adjacent normal colon. A method was devised for the isolation from colorectal adenocarcinomas of fibroblast-like cells that stained positive for vimentin but negative for cytokeratin. These tumor-derived stromal cells synthesized and secreted vitronectin, as revealed by metabolic labeling and immunoprecipitation. This was confirmed by Southern blot analysis of polymerase chain reaction amplification products from reverse-transcribed RNA. Normal skin fibroblasts did not synthesize vitronectin. Immunofluorescence staining showed vitronectin deposited at focal contact sites in the tumor-derived cells, where it colocalized with vinculin and the alpha v integrin subunit. The deposition of vitronectin into focal contact sites was not dependent on the presence of serum. The finding that vitronectin can be synthesized and secreted by tumor-derived fibroblast-like cells in culture indicates that vitronectin expression can be promoted by as yet unknown signals provided in disease states, such as cancer.