Quiescent and serum-stimulated cultures of Swiss mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEF) showed alterations in cell morphology including an enlargement in size upon treatment with 2% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). Treatment of MEF and monkey kidney epithelial cells (MK2) with 2% DMSO at the early periods of serum-stimulated growth inhibited RNA, protein and DNA synthesis. DMSO treatment of cells at late stages of serum-stimulated growth (MEF after 1 hr and MK2 cells after 3 hr of stimulation) had little effect on DNA and protein synthesis although cell enlargement occurred in these cells. When the [35S]methionine labelled proteins of the control and the DMSO treated cells were analysed by high resolution polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, no apparent difference was observed in the pattern of intracellular proteins of these cells. In contrast, the extracellular levels of two serum-induced secreted proteins of MEF (Mr 48,000 and 26,000) were dramatically reduced by DMSO treatment. The DMSO sensitive 48 kDa protein was found to be the major component of the extracellular matrix, while the 26 kDa protein was not. The 48 kDa protein was identified as plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-1). Densitometric quantitation showed a gradual accumulation of this protein in the matrix of serum-stimulated cells. The deposition of this protein in the matrix was inhibited by DMSO. Flow-cytometric quantitation of indirect immunofluorescence indicated higher intracellular levels of the 48 kDa protein in fetal calf serum (FCS) + DMSO treated cells, suggesting that the low level of this protein in the medium of DMSO treated cells is probably due to lack of transport of this protein from the cells into the medium.