The ability of thioglycollate (TG)-elicited mouse peritoneal macrophages to adhere to a laminin substratum has been studied. These cells do not adhere to laminin-coated (20 micrograms/ml) surfaces, but the addition of phorbol myristate acetate (PMA; 50 ng/ml) results in their rapid adherence and spreading on this substratum. TG-elicited and PMA-activated macrophages, however, can bind soluble laminin. Macrophages adhere to fibronectin-coated surfaces and tissue culture plastic without PMA stimulation, and PMA does not increase the number of cells that adhere to these surfaces. The predominant surface proteins that bind specifically to laminin-Sepharose exhibit an Mr of 67 and 36 kD, but the expression of these proteins does not increase after PMA stimulation. Laminin receptor antibodies immunoprecipitate the 67-kD protein from radiolabled surface lysates and are capable of blocking macrophage adherence to a laminin substratum. Indirect immunofluorescence microscopy indicates that PMA stimulation does not increase receptor expression, but that it may induce the aggregation of the receptor on the cell surface. PMA stimulation also promotes macrophage spreading and induces a reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton. Taken together, these data indicate the mechanism by which PMA promotes macrophage adherence to laminin does not involve increased 67-kD receptor surface expression, but that it is related to the changes in cytoskeletal and receptor surface organization that occur in response to PMA stimulation.