A better understanding of the mechanism of adhesion, spreading and proliferation of human endothelial cells (HEC) on polymeric surfaces may lead to the development of vascular prostheses which allow the formation of an endothelial lining on the luminal surface. In the present investigation the interaction of HEC with polyethylene precoated with monoclonal antibodies directed against HEC membrane antigens and against extracellular matrix compounds was studied. F(ab¿)2 fragments of a monoclonal antibody, directed against an endothelial cell membrane antigen, and F(ab')2 fragments of a monoclonal antibody, directed against cellular fibronectin, were also included in this study. Preadsorption of these antibodies and F(ab')2 fragments, including mixtures of antibodies and mixtures of F(ab')2 fragments, resulted in cell adhesion and spreading as well as moderate cell proliferation (or no proliferation) for several days. However, a good proliferation of HEC was only observed on polyethylene precoated with fibronectin or CLB-HEC-FN-140 (directed against fibronectin). These results strongly suggest that fibronectin, bound to a solid substrate, provides a biochemical signal necessary for the proliferation of HEC. The initial proliferation of HEC on other preadsorbed antibodies or F(ab')2 fragments may be explained by the fact that suspended HEC, used for cell seeding, still possess cell membrane-bound fibronectin.