Given prior evidence that adhesion molecules play critical roles in T cell recognition, it is important to identify new adhesion pathways and explore their role in T cell activation. Our studies of T cell proliferation complement concurrent studies of T cell adhesion; both demonstrate that resting CD4+ human T lymphocytes express the VLA integrins VLA-4, VLA-5, and VLA-6, and can use these receptors to interact with the extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins fibronectin (VLA-4 and VLA-5) and laminin (VLA-6). VLA-dependent interaction of resting human CD4+ T cells with fibronectin (FN) and laminin (LN) facilitates CD3-mediated T cell proliferation. Specifically, T cells do not proliferate in response to a wide range of concentrations of a CD3 mAb, OKT3, immobilized on plastic. However, coimmobilization with the CD3 mAb of FN or LN, but not other ECM proteins such as fibrinogen and collagen, consistently results in strong T cell proliferation. mAb blocking studies demonstrate that three VLA integrin receptor/ligand interactions mediate costimulation: VLA-4/FN, VLA-5/FN, and VLA-6/LN. VLA-5-dependent binding to FN but not costimulation by FN can be specifically blocked with peptides containing the RGD (arg-gly-asp) tripeptide sequence whereas VLA-4-dependent binding and costimulation can both be efficiently inhibited by a 12 amino acid peptide, LHGPEILDVPST (leu-his-gly-pro-glu-iso-leu-asp-val-pro-ser-thr), derived from the alternatively spliced IIICS region of FN. The costimulation provided by FN and LN in this system is stronger than and distinct from costimulatory signals provided by cytokines, such as IL-1 beta, IL-6,, and IL-7. These results suggest that, such as other adhesion molecules, T cell VLA integrins may also function in a dual capacity as adhesion and signalling molecules. In addition, they suggest that the interaction of T cells in vivo with ECM via VLA integrins plays a role not only in T cell migratory processes but may also influence Ag-specific T cell recognition.