The influence of laminin on cell cultures derived from unilateral acoustic nerve schwannomas was investigated. Cell cultures were initiated from 12 schwannomas, removed via the enlarged middle cranial fossa approach. Tumor tissue was dispersed by collagenase treatment and cells seeded in uncoated or laminin-coated culture dishes. Confluent cultures were immunocytochemically characterized with antibodies against S-100, CD 68, factor VIII-related antigen and type IV collagen. Cell adhesion in response to different doses of laminin was evaluated with an electronic cell counter. The effect of laminin on cell proliferation was assessed by measuring the incorporation of 5-bromo-2'-deoxy-uridine (BRDU) into cellular DNA. Cells cultured on laminin as substrate appeared more differentiated with long, fusiform, cytoplasmic processes. Cultured cells stained positive for S-100, not for factor VIII-related antigen or CD 68. Only cells cultured on laminin deposited a dense extracellular network of type IV collagen. When laminin was added to the culture medium, cell attachment and proliferation was stimulated in a dose dependent manner. Maximal stimulation of both was observed with a laminin concentration of 50 micrograms/ml, which induced a nearly 2-fold increase in cell attachment and an approximately 66% increase in DNA content. Since laminin is a major component of the extracellular matrix in schwannomas, the possibility exists that laminin is also mitogenic for human neoplastic Schwann cells in situ.