Normal mesenchymal cells within developing embryonic organs and transformed stromal cells in organs undergoing spontaneous carcinogenesis have the capacity for normal or altered expression of the extracellular matrix glycoprotein tenascin (Tn). Mesenchymal cell constituents of normal adult organs show only a very limited tendency to deposit Tn in their extracellular matrix. In the present study, we investigated whether malignant human mesenchymal cells derived from uterine sarcomas or normal human endometrial stromal cells partially transformed via transfection with selected oncogenes have the capacity to produce and deposit Tn. We reached the following conclusions: (I) compared with normal endometrial tissues, uterine sarcomas show heterogeneous, but increased, immunoreactive staining patterns exclusively within the extracellular compartment, regardless of the histologic subtype of the tumor; (2) in vitro, all normal and transfected stromal cells and cell lines examined secreted Tn into the tissue culture medium; (3) this secretory ability was not translated into morphologic uniformity, since immunoreactivity detected by confocal laser scanning microscopy was observed in only selected cell populations; (4) also, the deposition and the incorporation of Tn depended upon the density of transfected cells, and (5) double-staining experiments revealed that Tn could always be localized in close proximity to fibron-ectin. In summary, the production of Tn is increased in most cases of human uterine sarcoma. The capacity of stromal cells to deposit Tn in a matrix-like structure in vitro, rather than increase production of Tn. is correlated with the degree of neoplastic progression. © 1993 S. Karger AG, Basel.