When P19 mouse embryonal carcinoma cells are grown in a serum-free N2 medium on surfaces of tissue culture plastic, they die within two days. The death of these P19 cells is prevented by activin A and basic FGF (bFGF). The cells do not divide under these conditions. However, when P19 cells are cultured on substrata of extracellular matrix proteins such as laminin and fibronectin, activin A and bFGF are potent mitogens. These data show that the substratum to which cells are exposed can regulate their mitogenic response to growth factors.