The amount and distribution of fibronectin associated with hair follicles was found to vary during the hair growth cycle in the rat. Immunocytochemical staining of follicles in mid-late anagen (the growth stage) revealed the presence of fibronectin in the dermal papilla matrix, in the basement membrane separating this from the epithelial cells of the hair bulb, and in the basement membrane and connective tissue sheath which underly the cells of the outer root sheath. Early in catagen, the transitional stage, staining of the dermal papilla matrix disappeared. Fibronectin persisted in the basement membrane and connective tissue sheath, which undergo corrugation and apparent thickening in catagen. After follicle shortening, the telogen (resting) stage is reached, at which point fibronectin staining was found to be minimal, being restricted to the basement membrane around the secondary germ. The onset of anagen, involving cell division and follicle elongation, was associated with a great increase in the amount of fibronectin in this zone and in and around the dermal papilla. Analysis of entry into anagen by [3H]thymidine incorporation and autoradiography revealed that growth could be detected before the increase in fibronectin expression. However, growing cells, even in a suprabasal position, always had some fibronectin at their surface. Immunoelectron microscopy of early anagen follicles confirmed the light microscopic findings and also showed that fibronectin was present in small vesicles close to the surface of dermal papilla and some epithelial cells. Increased deposition of laminin and type IV collagen in early anagen follicles was also noted, emphasizing the importance of basement membrane components during morphogenetic events in vivo.