Plasminogen binding sites function to arm cell surfaces with the proteolytic activity of plasmin, critical for degradation of extracellular matrices. We have assessed the effects of adhesion of the representative monocytoid cell lines, THP-1 and U937, to purified extracellular matrix proteins on their expression of plasminogen receptors. After adhesion to immobilized fibronectin, adherent and nonadherent subpopulations of cells were separated. Plasminogen binding to the nonadherent population of cells increased 3-fold, whereas binding to the adherent population decreased by 60%. These changes were due to differences in the plasminogen binding capacities of the cells, while the affinities of the cells for plasminogen were unchanged. The up-regulation of receptor expression in the nonadherent cell population was: 1) induced rapidly and reversibly, 2) independent of new protein synthesis, 3) required an interaction between adherent and nonadherent cell populations, and 4) associated with an enhanced ability of the cells to promote plasminogen activation and to degrade fibronectin. Other immobilized adhesive proteins, laminin and vitronectin, also supported up-regulation of plasminogen receptors in the nonadherent cells. Carboxypeptidase B treatment eliminated the increment in the plasminogen binding capacity of the nonadherent cells, suggesting that the increase in binding was due to exposure of new carboxyl-terminal lysyl residues on the cell surfaces. Furthermore, both the adherence of the cells and up-regulation of plasminogen binding sites was abolished by beta1-integrin monoclonal antibodies. These results suggest that proteins found in extracellular matrices have the capacity to modulate the expression of plasminogen binding sites, thus regulating local proteolysis and cell migration.