Lactoferrin was previously shown to inhibit the adhesion of A. actinomycetemcomitans, P. intermedia and P. nigrescens to human cells. Lactoferrin was also shown to competitively inhibit the binding of these bacteria to the basement membrane protein laminin. The present study aimed to determine the type of interactions inhibited by lactoferrin. Lactoferrin binds to fibroblast monolayers and Matrigel, a reconstituted basement membrane, through ionic interactions. The adhesion of A. actinomycetemcomitans to these substrata was mainly dependent on the ionic strength of the environment. P. intermedia and P. nigrescens also adhere to fibroblasts mainly by ionic interactions, while their adhesion to Matrigel seems to be mediated by specific mechanisms. Lectin-type interactions were not found to be involved in the binding of these bacteria to the substrata. Treatment of either A. actinomycetemcomitans or fibroblasts with lactoferrin decreased the adhesion in a dose-dependent manner, while lactoferrin treatment of Matrigel alone had no adhesion-counteracting effect. Adhesion of P. intermedia and P. nigrescens to Matrigel was not significantly affected by the ionic strength, but the presence of lactoferrin inhibited the adhesion. Lactoferrin bound to Matrigel, P. intermedia and P. nigrescens was rapidly released, while lactoferrin bound to A. actinomycetemcomitans and fibroblasts was retained. These findings indicate that lactoferrin-dependent inhibition of the adhesion of A. actinomycetemcomitans, P. intermedia and P. nigrescens to fibroblasts and Matrigel can involve binding of lactoferrin to both the bacteria and substrata. The decreased adhesion may be due to blocking of both specific adhesin-ligand as well as non-specific charge-dependent interactions.