It is known that the extracellular matrix (ECM) is able to signal to cells and thereby direct or modulate the transcription of certain mRNAs. This signaling plays an important role in tumor invasion and metastasis, wound healing, remodeling of the ECM and cell differentiation. There are several mechanisms whereby the ECM signals cells to change their metabolism: (1) receptor molecules binding to specific domains in the ECM, (2) direct phagocytosis of the ECM molecules or domains into the cell, (3) structural changes of the ECM domains. We report the effect of an ECM containing either mutant or normal Fbn1 on the transcription levels of several collagen mRNAs. Tsk/Tsk, Tsk/+ and +/+ mouse embryonic fibroblast cell lines were used. Tsk/Tsk cells produce only mutated fibrillin-1 which arises from mRNA containing an in-frame duplication of exons 17-40. To test the effect of the ECM containing mutant Fbn1, cells of the Tsk/Tsk, Tsk/+ and the wild-type (+/+) genotype were each grown on an ECM produced by either Tsk/Tsk, Tsk/+ cells or by wild-type cells (+/+). The embryonic cells were genotyped by Northern analyses for Fbn1 and grown to confluence. The cultures were then harvested and the cells removed, leaving the matrix in the flasks. Matrices produced from Tsk/Tsk, Tsk/+ and from +/+ cells were reseeded with Tsk/Tsk cells, Tsk/+ cells or +/+ cells. The cells were plated at a confluent concentration and incubated on the matrices for 48 h, after which total RNA was harvested and cDNA generated. Real-time PCR using cDNA or Northern analyses using RNA were performed for Fbn1 and Types I, III and V collagens. The PCR and Northern results were normalized using beta-actin and GAPDH, respectively. The Northern analyses showed that the steady state levels of mRNA for Col1a1 were depressed in both Tsk/Tsk and +/+ cells when grown on the matrix produced by Tsk/Tsk cells. Real-time PCR was then performed with primers specific for Col1a2, Col3a1, Col5a1 and Col5a2. The results showed that cells with the Tsk/Tsk, Tsk/+, and +/+ genotype all had lower steady-state levels of the above 4 collagen mRNAs when grown on the matrix produced by homozygous Tsk/Tsk cells or the matrix produced by heterozygous Tsk/+ cells compared with those grown on a matrix produced by +/+ cells. We hypothesize that the mutated Fbn1 molecules with many additional EGF-calcium binding regions and TGF-beta binding domains may (1) change the homeostasis of the ECM by binding additional growth factors and/or (2) present a radically different ECM 3-dimensional architecture. Either or both of these changes could signal the cell to produce less collagen.