We previously showed that fibronectin (FN) synergized with anti-CD3 in induction of CD4+ T cell proliferation, and that VLA-5 acted as a functional FN receptor in a serum-free culture system. In the present study, we showed that VLA-4 is also involved in this CD3-dependent CD4 cell activation through its interaction with the alternatively spliced CS1 domain of FN. When highly purified CD4 cells were cultured on plates coated with anti-CD3 plus synthetic CS1 peptide-IgG conjugate, significant proliferation could be observed. Neither CS1 alone nor anti-CD3 alone induced this activation. This proliferation was completely blocked by anti-VLA beta 1 (4B4) and anti-VLA-4 (8F2), while anti-VLA-5 (monoclonal antibody [mAb] 16 and 2H6) had no effect. These data indicate that VLA-4 mediates CD3-dependent CD4 cell proliferation via the CS1 domain of FN. Anti-VLA-4 also partially (10-40%) inhibited CD4 cell proliferation induced by native FN plus anti-CD3, implying that the CS1 domain is active in the native plasma FN. However, this native FN-dependent proliferation was entirely abolished by addition of anti-VLA-5 alone. Moreover, when native FN-coated plates were pretreated with anti-FN (mAb 333), which blocks RGDS sites but not CS1 sites, no CD4 cell activation could be observed. These results strongly suggest that CD4 cell activation induced by plasma FN/anti-CD3 may be dependent on both VLA4/CS1 and VLA5/RGDS interactions, although the latter interaction may be required for function of the former.