The expression and cellular distribution of glia-derived nexin (GDN), laminin and fibronectin on C6 rat glioma cells, rat brain astrocytes and rat fibroblasts were investigated by immunoblotting and immunocytochemistry. Western blot analysis of C6 cell homogenates confirmed the specificities of the antibodies. Immunocytochemical staining of C6 cells, astrocytes and fibroblasts showed that laminin, fibronectin and GDN were abundant on the surface of glioma cells and astrocytes whereas on fibroblasts fibronectin was abundant though only traces of GDN and laminin could be detected. The light microscopy data were confirmed by ultrastructural studies showing that each antigen was present on the surface of the C6 rat glioma cells as numerous spots with slightly different distribution patterns for each of the antigens. In fibroblast cultures, the antigens were also localized in the extracellular matrix in the vicinity of the cells. Migrating fibroblasts but not migrating glioma cells or astrocytes deposit the matrix-proteins onto the substratum leaving behind a track of GDN, laminin and fibronectin. When the cells were treated with heparin prior to antibody incubation, the GDN immunoreactivity completely disappeared, whereas the distribution and abundance of laminin and fibronectin was not affected. Our data show that GDN binds, possibly by a heparin-like molecule, to the outer surface of cells or to the extracellular matrix and may protect cells and matrix proteins against proteolytic degradation.