Recent reports show that components of the extracellular matrix function as cell survival factors through the suppression of apoptosis (programmed cell death). In this report we show that attachment to fibronectin suppresses apoptosis of normal human fetal and neonatal melanocytes in vitro and that prevention of attachment to underlying matrix or attachment to poly-L-lysine is a potent inducer of apoptosis in melanocytes. A role for the beta1-integrin family in mediating cell survival signals was shown by the ability of beta1-blocking antibodies to enhance apoptosis in melanocytes attached to fibronectin, and by the ability of anti-beta1 antibodies immobilized on solid supports to suppress apoptosis in melanocytes. Cytochalasin D reversed the effect of fibronectin on the suppression of apoptosis in melanocytes, suggesting that an intact cytoskeleton is required for transduction of survival signals. A human metastatic melanoma cell line, SKMEL28, was resistant to apoptosis when grown in suspension or on poly-L-lysine, even after 4 d in culture in the absence of exogenous growth factors. These results suggest that fibronectin suppresses apoptosis in normal human melanocytes through an integrin-dependent pathway and that significant differences in the control of anchorage-dependent regulation of apoptosis exist in melanocytes and melanoma cells.