The localization of five integrin subunit proteins was studied in human erythroleukemia (HEL) cells spreading on various culture substrata in the presence of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) and the absence of serum. The cells readily adhered on fibronectin, but TPA was needed for adherence on vitronectin and for the spreading of the cells on both substrata. Indirect immunofluorescence microscopy showed that in the spread cells cultured on vitronectin or fibronectin for 2 hours, beta 1, beta 3, alpha 5, and alpha IIb integrin subunits were localized at focal adhesions as identified by talin-immunoreactivity. The alpha v integrin immunoreactivity was initially found at the focal adhesions when the cells were cultured on vitronectin, but was also found later in cells cultured on fibronectin. The alpha IIb integrin immunoreactivity disappeared from focal adhesions within 24 hours. The alpha 5 and beta 1 integrin immunoreactivities disappeared from the focal adhesions in cells cultured on vitronectin, but not in cells cultured on fibronectin. When the cells were plated on glass substratum in the presence of TPA, they spread much slower than on vitronectin or fibronectin, but some cells showed focal adhesions after only 8 hours in culture. In this case, the alpha v and beta 3 integrin subunits were found at focal adhesions. After TPA treatment, HEL cells deposited thrombospondin-immunoreactive material onto their culture substratum, but synthesis of fibronectin, vitronectin, fibrinogen, or von Willebrand factor was not detected. Thus, the results suggest that TPA would activate several integrin receptors in HEL cells and also stimulate the secretion of thrombospondin, which might be used as an adhesion ligand for the integrin vitronectin receptor alpha v/beta 3 complex.