The effects of chronic EGF exposure on expression of the alpha2beta1 collagen and alpha5beta1 fibronectin receptor in a pair of human carcinoma cell lines (A431 and A549) with differential responses to EGF in a short-term ECM-cell adhesion assay were investigated. Treatment with EGF at 10 ng/ml for 24 hr increased on both cell lines the expression of the alpha2- but not the beta1- or alpha5-integrin sub-units, and concomitantly cellular adhesion was increased on collagen IV but not on fibronectin. Increased collagen adhesion of A549 cells could be blocked by alpha2- and beta1-integrin-sub-unit antibodies down to control levels, while it was blocked by alpha2-integrin-sub-unit antibody only by 60% and completely by the beta1-integrin-sub-unit antibody on A431 cells. EGF induced disparate shifts in cell morphologies (dome-like structures, A431, vs. spindle-like fibroblastoid, A549) with concomitant opposite changes in the expression/localization of E-cadherin in cell-cell contacts. This could be taken as an indication for cell-type-specific differential changes in the ratio of cell-ECM vs. cell-cell contacts. The EGF-induced up-regulation of the alpha2beta1 integrin was instrumental in increasing collagen adhesion of A549 but only partly in the case of A431 cells, in which cells the alpha2beta1 integrin may have additional functions besides serving as cell-ECM receptor.