The adhesive properties and the expression of extracellular matrix receptors of the beta 1-integrin subfamily were analyzed in transformed epidermal keratinocyte cell lines of different stages of mouse skin carcinogenesis. One- and two-dimensional analyses of the immunoprecipitates obtained with anti-beta 1- and specific anti-alpha-integrin subunits showed qualitative and quantitative changes in the expression of beta 1 integrins by the different cell lines. The polyvalent alpha 3 beta 1 integrin was expressed by all analyzed cell lines, although the levels detected in undifferentiated spindle CarC cells were lower than those present in the rest of keratinocyte cell lines. In contrast, spindle cells expressed high levels of the specific fibronectin receptor alpha 5 beta 1, whereas this integrin was absent or expressed at very reduced levels in the other epithelial cell lines. Expression of alpha 5 beta 1 integrin in spindle cells appeared organized in cell-substratum contact areas on spread cells. In addition, high and homogenous expression of alpha 5 beta 1 was detected in fully undifferentiated tumors induced in nude mice by three independent spindle cell lines. These results suggest that the expression of alpha 5 beta 1 integrin is upregulated during the development of spindle cell carcinomas that occur in the last stages of mouse skin carcinogenesis and can be associated with the acquisition of the fibroblastoid phenotype of spindle cells. On the other hand, expression of the collagen receptor alpha 2 beta 1 was demonstrated in a transformed cell line (PDV), and it was apparently also expressed in two other malignant keratinocyte cell lines (PDVC57 and HaCa4). The expression of alpha 2 beta 1 was correlated with the increased adhesion to collagen type I and collagen type IV exhibited by the tumorigenic cell lines.