Cementum attachment protein (CAP) is a collagenous protein present in the matrix of tooth cementum that mediates preferential attachment of some mesenchymal cell types, and CAP binding capacity is related to mineralizing tissue-forming capacity in culture. We have examined if adhesion to surfaces containing CAP as the only attachment protein permits human fibroblasts to escape G1 arrest and synthesize DNA, and if adhesion to CAP modulates the levels of cyclins D1 and E. Human gingival fibroblasts (HGFs) were serum-starved, trypsinized, and added to plates coated with CAP or bovine serum albumin (BSA). Cells were then exposed to either 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) or to cementum-derived growth factor (CGF), an insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I)-like molecule sequestered in tooth cementum, plus epidermal growth factor (EGF). DNA synthesis was measured as [3H]thymidine uptake, and cyclin D1 and E levels were determined by Western analysis. Cyclin E-dependent kinase (Cdk) activity was assessed in terms of H1 kinase activity in immunoprecipitates of cyclin E. Cells adhering to CAP synthesized DNA, whereas on BSA they remained unattached and did not synthesize DNA. Protein levels of cyclin D1 were higher in cells adhering to CAP in the absence and presence of growth factors. Cyclin E levels were not affected by adhesion alone, but they increased in the presence of growth factors. Cyclin E-associated kinase activity was higher in cells adherent on CAP, and it increased further in the presence of growth factors. Our results indicate that adhesion to CAP increases cyclin D1 levels and cyclin E-associated Cdk activity, and that these increases contribute to cell cycle progression. We previously observed that the signaling reactions induced during adhesion are characteristic of the CAP; together these observations indicate that specific matrix components present in the local environment can contribute to recruitment and differentiation of specific cell types for normal homeostasis and wound healing.