We have investigated the binding of 125I-concanavalin A (125I-Con A) and 125I-succinyl concanavalin A (125I-s-Con A) to rat fibroblasts (16C line) as a function of the concentration of added lectin, and the alterations to this binding behaviour caused by drugs which modify the cytoskeleton. The changes in cell behaviour which occur at different levels of binding have also been studied. As shown previously for some other systems, the binding of Con A is complex and partly co-operative. Three phases can be distinguished in our system: (i) pre-nucleation binding, (ii) binding which shows a small positive slope in a Scatchard plot and a Hill coefficient greater than unity, and which therefore is incipiently co-operative, and (iii) post-co-operative binding. The co-operative phase of binding is paralleled by progressive inhibition of EGTA-mediated cell detachment from substrata, with inhibition being complete when this phase of binding is complete. Likewise, the phagocytosis of latex spheres is progressively inhibited up to a threshold which coincides with the completion of co-operative binding. Thirdly, cells pretreated with Con A round up with colchicine (10(-5) M) if co-operative finding is complete, but adopt broad epithelial shapes if it is not. s-Con A does not show cooperative binding, and correspondingly does not inhibit EGTA-mediated cell detachment, or show a distinct threshold in the inhibition of phagocytosis, or promote the 2 types of shape change with colchicine. The pattern of Con A binding is drastically altered by pretreatment of cells with cytochalasin B or azide. The Scatchard and Hill plots show that the co-operative phase remains and is complete at about the same level of binding, but that it is more readily nucleated and takes place against a changed number and/or distribution of receptors. Pretreatment of cells with colchicine causes changes in the pattern of binding which are different from those observed with cytochalasin B or azide and are more difficult to interpret. We conclude that a reciprocal relationship exists between the cellular actomyosin and the state of cell surface receptors. Perturbation of actomyosin by cytochalasin B or azide can enhance the freedom of some receptors to participate in a co-operative rearrangement which facilitates the binding of further molecules of lectin. Vice versa, the co-operative event has a feedback influence on the cellular actomyosin to cause alterations of cellular response.