Fibronectin (FN) plays an important role in endothelial cell adhesion, spreading, and motility. Within FN, a number of functional domains have been identified, including the 33/66-kD carboxyl-terminal heparin-binding fragments, which support the adhesion of vascular endothelial cells. A number of synthetic peptides representing amino acid sequences within the 33/66-kD fragments have been shown to promote the adhesion, spreading, and migration of a variety of cell types. Our working hypothesis is that one or more of these sequences may also mediate vascular endothelial cell adhesion, spreading, and migration to the 33/66-kD fragments. In support of this hypothesis, we have demonstrated that endothelial cells from various sources adhered in a concentration-dependent manner to surfaces coated with FN, the 33/66-kD fragments, and synthetic peptides derived from the 33/66-kD fragments of FN. FN and the 33/66-kD fragments also promoted endothelial cell spreading and migration. Although each of the six synthetic peptides tested supported endothelial cell adhesion, only one of these peptides within the carboxyl-terminal heparin-binding domain (FN-C/H-V) promoted endothelial cell spreading and migration. Cell spreading on FN-C/H-V, as well as on FN and the 33/66-kD fragments, was associated with the formation of a well-developed actin cytoskeleton and the formation of focal contacts. FN-C/H-V (but not scrambled FN-C/H-V) inhibited cell spreading on FN and the 33/66-kD fragments in a concentration-dependent manner. FN-C/H-V had a modest effect on the adhesion of a clonal population of rat heart endothelial cells (RHE-1A) to the 33/66-kD fragments of FN and no effect on RHE-1A cell adhesion to FN. These findings suggest that peptide FN-C/H-V is unique among this group of peptides derived from the 33/66-kD heparin-binding fragments of FN in its ability to promote the adhesion, spreading, and migration of vascular endothelial cells and further suggest that the sequence defined by this peptide plays an important role in vascular endothelial cell interactions with the 33/66-kD fragments of FN.