Trypsinized BHK cells become attached to glass that has been derivatized with a variety of lectins with well-defined specificity for cell-surface carbohydrates. Provided a threshold concentration of glass-immobilized protein is present the cells undergo a transformation to a well-spread morphology. The matrix density of lectins (ricin and concanavalin A) required to trigger this morphological transformation is higher by 10 to 40-fold thant the value determined earlier (Hughes, Pena, Clark & Dourmashkin, 1979) for fibronectin. Cells resistant to the toxic lectin, ricin, and expressing 10% or less of ricin-binding carbohydrate groups at their cell surfaces require correspondingly greater matrix densities of ricin to promote active cell spreading. All cell lines spread equally well on concanavalin A-based matrices consistent with their similar binding properties. The quantitative interaction of complementary molecules on the cell surface and matrix, promoting cell adhesion, is demonstrated by these results and a model is proposed for the events leading to a well-spread cell morphology on a protein-coated substratum.