A series of peptides of 15 amino acids with sequences contained in human extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins (fibronectin, laminin A, laminin B1, tenascin, undulin, alpha 1-chain of type IV and VIII collagen and alpha 2-chain of type VIII collagen) have been synthesized. The selected structures conformed to the following pattern: (i) Pro at position 6, (ii) Leu, Lys, Ile, Val, Ala or Gly at position 2, (iii) Glu or Asp at position 11. Fibronectin and the indicated peptides, when present in cultures of lymphomononuclear cells from healthy donors, promoted stimulation of monocytes manifested by a release of IL-1 alpha, IL-beta, IL-6 and TNF alpha; an increase in the percentage of cells expressing CD14, CD16, CD11b and CD14/CD16; an increase in cytotoxicity against HT-29. Cytotoxicity against K562 and Daudi cells (targets of NK and LAK cells) was also observed together with an increase in the percentage of cells expressing CD56, CD56/CD16 (corresponding to NK cells), and CD56/CD8 (corresponding to NK-like lymphocytes), indicating a stimulation of lymphocytes. Activated monocytes and lymphocytes contained a large number of granules with DNAse activity. These results suggest that at least some of the immunological properties of ECM proteins could be accounted for by motifs fulfilling a characteristic sequence pattern shared by all of them.