The mechanism of glial proliferation in the developing nervous system, as well as in response to injury, inflammation, and tumor invasion, is unknown. Several growth factors and extracellular matrices have been shown to stimulate the proliferation of cultured cells of various origin, including astrocytes. We investigated the effect of extracellular matrix components, including fibronectin (FN), laminin (LN), and collagen types I and IV, on the growth of astrocytes during stimulation by various growth factors. When astrocytes were grown on FN- and LN-coated wells in a serum-free, chemically defined medium, their increase in number significantly exceeded that of cells grown on plastic wells. The addition of platelet-derived or basic fibroblast growth factor to cells cultured on FN- or LN-coated wells significantly potentiated astrocyte proliferation. The collagen preparations had no such effect. These observations indicate that FN and LN have a fundamental part in converting the quiescent astrocyte into the proliferating phenotype, which may be required for remodelling damaged brain tissues in vivo.