Much recent research has focused on the study of the expression of growth factor genes and on the identification of growth factor signaling mechanisms inside cells. However, growth factor signaling can also be regulated outside of cells by extracellular matrix proteins and proteolytic enzymes. The ability of extracellular proteins to process complex information in the absence of new protein synthesis is illustrated in blood clotting and complement pathways. An increasing number of growth factors, including IGFs, FGFs, TGF-beta's, and HGF, have been found to associate with the extracellular matrix proteins or with heparan sulfate. Rapid and localized changes in the activity of these factors can be induced by release from matrix storage and/or by activation of latent forms. These growth factors, in turn, control cell proliferation, differentiation, and synthesis and remodeling of the extracellular matrix. It is therefore likely that much of the information processing necessary for construction of complex multicellular organisms occurs in the extracellular environment. This suggests that extracellular matrix plays a major role in the control of growth factor signaling.