We have analyzed the effects of transformation by Rous sarcoma virus on expression of types I and II collagen and fibronectin genes in vertebral chondrocytes and compared them with expression of these genes in skin fibroblasts. Transformed chondrocytes display a dramatically decreased amount of type II collagen RNA, which can account fully for the decreased synthetic rate of this protein. Paradoxically, these cells also display greatly increased amounts of type I collagen RNAs, which are translated efficiently in vitro, but not in the intact cells. We show here that the type I collagen RNAs in transformed chondrocytes are nearly indistinguishable from those found in skin fibroblasts, and that they clearly differ from the type I collagen RNAs found in normal chondrocytes. Transformed chondrocytes also display an increased amount of fibronectin RNAs, which can account fully for the increased synthetic rate of this protein. Thus, the effects of transformation by Rous sarcoma virus on type I collagen and fibronectin RNAs in chondrocytes are the opposite of those observed in fibroblasts, which display decreased amounts of these three RNAs. These data indicate that the effects of transformation on the genes encoding type I collagen and fibronectin must be modulated by host cell-specific factors. They also imply that the types I and II collagen genes may be regulated by different mechanisms, the type I genes being controlled at both transcriptional and posttranscriptional levels, and the type II gene being controlled primarily at the transcriptional level.