Rabbit synovial fibroblasts (RSF) express basal levels of the metalloproteinases (MMP) collagenase, stromelysin-1 and 92-kD gelatinase when plated on intact fibronectin (FN), but elevated levels when plated on either the central RGD-containing cell-binding region of FN (120FN) or antibody against the α5β1 integrin, suggesting that domains outside 120FN may suppress the induction of MMP (Werb, Z., P.M. Tremble, O. Behrendtsen, E. Crowley, and C. H. Damsky. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 109:877-889). We therefore attempted to reconstitute the basal signaling of intact FN by plating RSF on 120FN together with domains of FN outside this region. Large COOH-terminal fragments containing both the heparin-binding and IIICS domains suppressed MMP when combined with 120FN. To map the active sequences, peptides from this region and larger fragments that did, or did not, include the CS-1 portion of IIICS were tested. Only CS-1 peptide, or larger fragments containing CS-1, suppressed MMP expression induced by 120FN. In contrast, peptide V from the heparin-binding region, shown previously to stimulate focal contact formation, further enhanced MMP expression by RSF when present on the substrate with 120FN. RSF expressed α4β1 integrin, the receptor for CS-1, and the anti-α4 mAb blocked the ability of CS-1 to suppress MMP induction by 120FN. These results show that signals modulating MMP expression and focal contact assembly are regulated independently, and that cooperative signaling by α5β1 and α4β1 integrins plays a dominant role in regulating expression of these extracellular matrix-remodeling genes in response to FN. This work demonstrates directly the modular way in which information in the extracellular matrix is detected and processed by cell surface receptors.