Microvascular endothelial cell invasion into the fibrin provisional matrix is an integral component of angiogenesis during wound repair. Cell surface receptors which interact with extracellular matrix proteins participate in cell migration and invasion. Malignant cells use CD44-related chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) as a matrix receptor to mediate migration and invasion. In this study, we examine whether cell surface CSPG can mediate similar events in nonmalignant wound microvascular endothelial cells or whether use of CSPG for migration and invasion is a property largely restricted to malignant cells. After inhibiting CSPG synthesis with p-nitrophenyl beta-d xylopyranoside (beta-d xyloside), wound microvascular endothelial cells were capable of attaching and spreading on the surface of a fibrin gel; however, their ability to invade the fibrin matrix was virtually eliminated. To begin to examine the mechanism by which endothelial cells use CSPG to invade fibrin matrices, cell adhesion and migration on fibrinogen was examined. Endothelial cell adhesion and migration on fibrinogen were inhibited by both beta-d xyloside and after cleavage of chondroitin sulfate from the core protein by chondroitinase ABC. We have determined that wound microvascular endothelial cells express the majority of their proteoglycan as CSPG and that the CSPG core protein is immunologically related to CD44. PCR studies show that these cells express both the "standard" (CD44H) isoform and an isoform containing the variably spliced exon V3. In addition, anti-CD44 antibody blocks endothelial cell migration on fibrinogen. Affinity chromatography studies reveal that partially purified microvascular endothelial cell CSPG binds fibrinogen. These findings suggest that CD44-related CSPG, a molecule implicated in the invasive behavior of tumor cells, is capable of binding fibrinogen/fibrin, thereby mediating endothelial cell migration and invasion into the fibrin provisional matrix during wound repair.