The present investigation was carried out to identify salivary components of mucosal pellicles in vivo and explore further the mechanism of interaction between salivary molecules and buccal epithelial cells. By using specific antisera and immunoprotein blotting, high-(MG1) and low-(MG2) molecular-mass salivary mucins, amylase, salivary cystatins and proline-rich proteins were detected within mucosal pellicle in vivo. In addition, the data indicated that the mucins and proline-rich proteins could be cleaved into lower-molecular-mass products, whereas the proline-rich proteins could also be cross-linked into higher-molecular-mass complexes. The role of buccal epithelial cell transglutaminase in these interactions was further studied by utilizing purified iodinated amylase, neutral cystatin SN and acidic proline-rich proteins 1 and 3 (APRP1 and 3). After incubation with buccal epithelial cells in vitro 125I-labelled APRPs appeared to undergo a greater degree of cross-linking than 125I-labelled cystatin SN, as determined by SDS/PAGE/autoradiography. Amylase did not appear to be cross-linked at all. Recovery of 125I-labelled APRPs and 125I-labelled cystatin SN with epithelial cell envelopes after repeated extraction suggested that both molecules were cross-linked to envelope proteins, but that 125I-labelled APRPs were cross-linked to a greater degree than 125I-labelled cystatin SN. Cross-linking in buccal epithelial cell preparations was inhibited by an excess of methylamine hydrochloride, a transglutaminase substrate. In a further assessment of amylase, cystatin and APRPs as transglutaminase substrates, only APRP3 and a partially purified preparation of APRPs acted as an amine acceptor for the cross-linking of [14C]methylamine by purified transglutaminase, as determined by SDS/PAGE/fluorography. This reaction was completely inhibited by excess EDTA. The combined data from this study suggest that during mucosal pellicle formation multiple components of saliva adsorb to buccal epithelial cell surfaces, and that, within this group, selected components are enzymically cross-linked by an epithelial transglutaminase and/or proteolytically cleaved into smaller fragments.