This review deals with biological and pathological aspects of various isoforms of the matrix molecules fibronectin and laminin. They are generated by different molecular mechanisms: ED-A+ and ED-B+ fibronectin by alternative splicing of pre mRNA, de novo-glycosylated fibronectin by alternative post-translational O-linked glycosylation of the IIICS region, and the laminin isoforms by exchange of single chains of the heterotrimeric molecule. In contrast to the "common" fibronectin, the distribution of ED-B+ and de novo-glycosylated fibronectin is restricted to embryonic tissues; they subsequently reappear in granulation tissue, in fibrosing processes and in tumour stroma. The expression of these so-called oncofetal fibronectins is stimulated by growth factors (TGF beta). The association of the ED-B+ fibronectin with proliferative activity and newly formed vessels identifies this fibronectin variant as a marker of cellular activity in the process of fibrosis and as a suitable agent for the evaluation of tumour angioneogenesis. Initial results suggest a correlation between the amount of ED-B+ and de novo-glycosylated fibronectin in tumour stroma and the behaviour of carcinomas with regard to their invasiveness and propensity for metastatic dissemination. The current nomenclature of the laminin molecule family is presented. The laminin chain constitution of basement membranes switches from embryonic or proliferatively active to adult terminally differentiated tissues [disappearance of the laminin beta 2 (s) chain] and depends on the tissue type. The discrepancy between the loss of basement membranes (multiple basement membrane defects) in carcinomas and the recently reported increased laminin chain synthesis in these tumours may be explained by abundant laminin chain deposition outside the basement membrane in the carcinoma invasion front, possibly associated with enhanced adhesion of budding tumour cells.