Cytotactin is an extracellular matrix protein that is dynamically and transiently expressed in a place-dependent fashion during development by glial cells, fibroblasts, and several other cell types. In the present study, the effects of cytotactin on cell proliferation were examined in fibroblastic cells in culture. NIH 3T3 mouse cells plated on tissue culture substrata in the presence of soluble cytotactin remained rounded for longer periods than untreated control cells, similar to their response to cytotactin-coated substrates. These rounding effects could be prevented by pretreatment of the cells with nocodazole, a microtubule-disrupting agent. Cytotactin inhibited the proliferation of fibroblasts in culture in a dose- and time-dependent manner, and this inhibition occurred even after nocodazole treatment. In addition, the presence of cytotactin inhibited proliferation stimulated by growth factors or tumor promoter. These effects on cell growth were accompanied by an early inhibition of the intracellular alkalinization that normally occurs upon mitogenic stimulation by a number of growth-promoting agents. Together these observations suggest that cytotactin is an endogenous cell surface modulatory protein and provide a possible mechanism whereby cytotactin may contribute to pattern formation during development, regeneration, tumorigenesis, and wound healing.