Cytokines can influence the interactions between members of the integrin cell adhesion receptor family and the extracellular matrix thereby potentially affecting cell function and promoting cell adhesion, growth and migration of malignant astrocytoma tumor cells. As malignant astrocytoma cells synthesize TGF-β1 in vivo, we analysed the effects of TGF-β1 on signaling events associated with integrin receptor ligation, focusing on the effects on paxillin, a phosphorylated adaptor protein, that acts as a scaffold for signaling molecules recruited to focal adhesions. TGF-β1-stimulation of primary astrocytes and serum-starved U-251MG malignant astrocytoma cells attached to fibronectin induced a substantial increase in the levels of paxillin protein (fivefold increase at 2.0 ng/ml) in a dose- and time-dependent manner compared to the levels observed on plating onto fibronectin in the absence of stimulation. In the astrocytoma cells, this resulted in an increase in the pool of tyrosine-phosphorylated paxillin, although it did not appear to alter the extent of phosphorylation of the paxillin molecules. In contrast, in primary astrocytes the protein levels were upregulated in the absence of a parallel increase in phosphorylation. The TGF-β1-stimulated increase in paxillin levels required ligation of the fibronectin receptor, as it was not induced when the cells were plated onto vitronectin, collagen or laminin. The increase in the pool of paxillin on TGF-β1 stimulation of the fibronectin-plated astrocytoma cells was associated with an increase in translation, but was not associated with an increase in the steady-state levels of paxillin mRNA. Stimulation with TGF-β1 on a fibronectin substrate increased subsequent attachment and spreading of U-251MG cells onto fibronectin and, to a lesser extent, vitronectin, but not collagen. Our results indicate that physiologic levels of TGF-β1 stimulate the expression of paxillin protein at the level of translation through a process that requires engagement of the fibronectin receptor, and promotes attachment and spreading of malignant astrocytoma cells on fibronectin.