Fibrinogen/fibrin and its proteolytic fragments serve as potential adhesive substrates during thrombosis, wound healing, and cancer. In this report we examined the biological response of human melanoma cells exposed to fibrinogen and its naturally occurring plasmic breakdown products that are known constituents of the tumor stroma. Plasmin treatment of fibrinogen first results in fragment X, which is characterized by removal of the COOH-terminal portion of the alpha chain including an RGD sequence (A alpha 572-575). Further digestion leads to fragment D comprising primarily an intact COOH-terminal stretch of the gamma chain containing the platelet adhesion sequence HHLGGAKQAGDV. In a sensitive adhesion assay M21 human melanoma cells utilized integrin alpha v beta 3 to attach to all three of these ligands. However, only intact fibrinogen promoted significant cell spreading, while fragment X produced minimal spreading and fragment D promoted only adhesion. These results indicate that fibrinogen contains at least two alpha v beta 3-dependent adhesive sites and these promote distinct biological responses of human melanoma cells. The differential functional properties of these ligands directly correlate to their relative binding affinity for purified alpha v beta 3 as measured in a solid-phase receptor binding assay. These results provide evidence that a single integrin can promote distinct biological signals depending on the molecular nature of the ligand binding event.