The use of force spectroscopy to study the adhesion of living fibroblasts to their culture substrate was investigated. Both primary fibroblasts (PEMF) and a continuous cell line (3T3) were studied on quartz surfaces. Using a fibronectin- coated AFM cantilever, it was possible to detach a large proportion of the 3T3 cells from the quartz surfaces. Their adhesion to the quartz surface and the effects of topography on this adhesion could be quantified. Three parameters characteristic of the adhesion were measured: the maximum force of detachment, the work of adhesion, and the distance of detachment. Few PEMF cells were detached under the same experimental conditions. The potential and limitations of this method in measuring cell/surface interactions for adherent cells are discussed.