HaCaT cells, an immortalized keratinocyte line, incubated in plastic wells in the presence of conditioned medium from 804G cells adhered and spread rapidly in less than 30 min. In contrast, cells plated in fibroblast or keratinocyte conditioned medium adhered poorly and remained rounded at 30 min. Immunodepletion of 804G conditioned medium with polyclonal antisera to laminin-5r, but not control antisera, abolished rapid cell spreading. Electron microscopy of HaCaT cells spread by incubation in 804G conditioned medium, but not control medium, revealed mature hemidesmosomes after 24 h. Rapid spreading was also observed in wells precoated with 804G conditioned medium or 804G cell-deposited matrix, but not with fibronectin, vitronectin, or laminin-1. Immunoblotting of 804G conditioned medium with anti-laminin-5r antibodies unveiled polypeptides of 150, 140, 135, and 100 kDa, identical by electrophoretic mobility to immunoreactive polypeptides in 804G deposited matrix. Our results suggest that addition of laminin-5r in a soluble form is sufficient to promote rapid spreading and hemidesmosome assembly in keratinocytes. The mechanism of soluble laminin-5r action may include efficient surface "priming" for cell adhesion. Soluble laminin-5r may have a physiologic role in morphogenesis and repair of the epidermis and may be of use for therapeutic applications.