The reorganization of extracellular matrix (ECM) is an important function in many biological and pathophysiological processes. Culture of fibroblasts in a three-dimensional collagenous environment represents a suitable system to study the underlying mechanisms resulting from cell-ECM interaction, which leads to reprogramming of fibroblast biosynthetic capacity. The aim of this study was to identify receptors that transduce ECM signals into cellular events, resulting in reprogramming of connective tissue metabolism. Our data demonstrate that in human skin fibroblasts α1β1 and α2β1 integrins are the major receptors responsible for regulating ECM remodeling: α1β1 mediates the signals inducing downregulation of collagen gene expression, whereas the α2β1 integrin mediates induction of collagenase (MMP-1). Applying mAb directed against different integrin subunits resulted in triggering the heterodimeric receptors and enhancing the normal biochemical response to receptor ligation. Different signal transduction inhibitors were tested for their influence on gel contraction, expression of α1(I) collagen and MMP-1 in fibroblasts within collagen gels. Ortho-vanadate and herbimycin A displayed no significant effect on any of these three processes. In contrast, genistein reduced lattice contraction, and completely inhibited induction of MMP-1, whereas type I collagen down-regulation was unaltered. Calphostin C inhibited only lattice contraction. Taken together, these data indicate a role of tyrosine-specific protein kinases in mediating gel contraction and induction of MMP-1, as well as an involvement of protein kinase C in the contraction process. The data presented here indicate that different signaling pathways exist leading to the three events discussed here, and that these pathways do not per se depend upon each other.