The dissemination of ovarian carcinoma cells within the abdominal cavity involves interaction of tumor cells with the peritoneal mesothelium. The aim of our study was to investigate whether mesothelial cells might directly affect the spreading of this tumor by inducing motility and invasiveness of human ovarian carcinoma cells. Serum-free supernatants of cultured human mesothelial cells [conditioned medium (CM)] induced chemotaxis and invasiveness of the human ovarian carcinoma cell lines SK-OV-3, OVCAR-5 and A2780 in a Boyden chamber. Checkerboard analysis indicated that the stimulated motility was prevalently directional. Most of the chemotactic activity was retained by a heparin affinity column, indicating that the motility factor(s) is a heparin-binding protein. Using different monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) directed against chemotactic factors that are secreted by mesothelial cells, we found that chemotaxis was partially prevented (64.8% inhibition) by antibodies against fibronectin (FN). CM also induced haptotactic migration of ovarian carcinoma cells, and anti-FN antibodies significantly inhibited haptotaxis. The presence of FN in the CM was confirmed by Western blot analysis. Our findings suggest that mesothelium plays an active role in inducing the intraperitoneal spread of ovarian carcinoma cells, and point to FN as being one of the main mediators of mesothelium-induced ovarian carcinoma cell motility.