The extracellular factors that determine a cell's responsiveness to neurotransmitters are of particular relevance for pharmacologically diverse cell types such as neurons and smooth muscle. We previously demonstrated that matrix-associated factors are capable of dramatically and specifically suppressing the responsiveness of smooth muscle to the neuropeptide, substance P. We now demonstrate that this influence of extracellular matrix on the pharmacological phenotype of smooth muscle cells can be blocked specifically by an Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD)-containing antagonist of integrins. Of a battery of integrin ligands tested, only thrombospondin mimicked the effect of the extracellular matrix on substance P responsiveness. This effect of thrombospondin was dose dependent, RGD sensitive, and blocked by an antibody directed against the RGD-containing region of thrombospondin. Because the mRNA for thrombospondin is present in the cells of the chicken amnion, this extracellular factor may normally suppress substance P responsiveness in amniotic smooth muscle. The results suggest a role for matrix-associated integrin ligands in the regulation of cellular responses to specific neurotransmitters and hormones and in the development and maintenance of tissue-specific pharmacological properties.