The extracellular matrix molecule cytotactin is a multidomain protein that plays a role in cell migration, proliferation, and differentiation during development. To analyze the structure-function relationships of the different domains of this glycoprotein, we have prepared a series of fusion constructs in bacterial expression vectors. Results obtained using a number of adhesion assays suggest that at least four independent cell binding regions are distributed among the various cytotactin domains. Two of these are adhesive; two others appear to be counteradhesive in that they inhibit cell attachment to otherwise favorable substrates. The adhesive regions were mapped to the fibronectin type III repeats II-VI and the fibrinogen domain. The morphology of the cells plated onto these adhesive fragments differed; the cells spread on the fibronectin type III repeats as they do on fibronectin, but remained round on the fibrinogen domain. The counteradhesive properties of the molecule were mapped to the EGF-like repeats and the last two fibronectin type III repeats, VII-VIII. The latter region also contained a cell attachment activity that was observed only after proteolysis of the cells. Several cell types were used in these analyses, including fibroblasts, neurons, and glia, all of which are known to bind to cytotactin. The different domains exert their effects in a concentration-dependent manner and can be inhibited by an excess of the soluble molecule, consistent with the hypothesis that the observed properties are mediated by specific receptors. Moreover, it appears that some of these receptors are restricted to particular cell types. For example, glial cells bound better than neurons to the fibrinogen domain and fibroblasts bound better than glia and neurons to the EGF fragment. These results provide a basis for understanding the multiple activities of cytotactin and a framework for isolating different receptors that mediate the various cellular responses to this molecule.