Using immunocytochemical methods, we localized several glycoproteins of the extracellular matrix to leptomeningeal cells and meningiomas in vitro. Three cell lines derived from normal human leptomeninges and seven from meningiomas were studied by indirect immunofluorescence to evaluate the cellular production of fibronectin, laminin, collagen type IV, and procollagen type III. All leptomeningeal cell lines stained intensely and uniformly for all matrix proteins; all meningioma cell cultures stained uniformly, but the intensity of staining varied considerably. After removal of the cells in culture adherent to glass with 25 mM ammonium hydroxide, indirect immunofluorescence demonstrated an exuberant residual extracellular residue enriched with fibronectin, laminin, collagen type IV, and procollagen type III. Electron microscopic examination of all leptomeningeal and meningioma cultures revealed desmosomes and dense tonofilament formation; in addition, granular, filamentous basement membrane-like material was abundant in the extracellular spaces of all cultures. Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the cell layer of two leptomeningeal and four meningioma cultures showed production of interstitial collagen types I and III; diethylaminoethyl (DEAE)-cellulose chromatography of the medium demonstrated preferential production of procollagen type I. Our findings show conclusively that normal arachnoid cells in vitro synthesize several of the collagen subtypes and may be responsible for the "fibrous response" of the leptomeninges to trauma, infection, or infiltration by tumor. The similarities between leptomeningeal cells and meningiomas demonstrated by electron microscopy and by indirect immunofluorescence support the notion that meningiomas are derived from arachnoid cells. The localization of various mesenchymal glycoproteins within the intra- and extracellular spaces and the ubiquity of specialized intercellular junctions suggest that leptomeningeal cells in culture have the potential to behave like both stromal and epithelial cells.