Extracellular matrix (ECM) is an important mediator of endothelial functions such as adhesion, spreading, migration, proliferation, and maintenance of differentiated functions. Attachment of cultured cells to tissue culture polystyrene (TCPS) is dependent on vitronectin which adsorbs onto the surface from the serum in the culture medium. Vitronectin (VN) will adsorb efficiently to TCPS even if the latter has been coated with another matrix molecule and blocked with albumin. This means that studies of the interactions of cells with individual coated ECM molecules will be confounded by the presence of adsorbed VN if serum is present in the culture medium. In this study, the adhesion, spreading, growth, and output of endogenous matrix molecules by bovine corneal endothelial (BCE) cells were measured on five different matrix substrates using medium which had been depleted of vitronectin to avoid such confounding effects. The same cell adhesion and spreading maxima were achieved on vitronectin, fibronectin (FN), laminin (LM), and types I and IV collagen (col I, col IV). The coating concentrations required to achieve these maxima, however, differed among the substrates, LM needing considerably higher concentrations than the other substrates for both maximal adhesion and spreading and FN needing higher concentrations for cell spreading. When cells were continuously passaged on each of the five substrates coated at concentrations optimal for cell spreading, no differences in cell proliferation rates or cell morphology were observed. Significant differences, however, were observed in the subcellular output of endogenous matrix molecules (FN, LM, col IV, and thrombospondin) between the different substrates. Col I was a poor substrate for the production of all ECM molecules tested over the 10 passages of the experiment, whereas col IV was a consistently good substrate. LM and FN substrates displayed differential effects on the output of different ECM molecules. VN was unique in that BCE cells at early passage on this substrate produced high levels of endogenous matrix molecules, whereas with continued passage on this substrate, a progressive decline in ECM secretion was observed. These results show that incorporation of individual molecules into the ECM by BCE cells in culture is significantly affected by the nature of the substratum. They further suggest that passage of endothelial cells in media containing serum (which results in coating of VN onto the substrate) may result in a progressive reduction of ECM output.