Following injury, mesenchymal repair cells are activated to function as leader cells that modulate wound healing. These cells have the potential to differentiate to myofibroblasts, resulting in fibrosis and scarring. The signals underlying these differing pathways are complex and incompletely understood. The ex vivo mock cataract surgery cultures are an attractive model with which to address this question. With this model we study, concurrently, the mechanisms that control mesenchymal leader cell function in injury repair within their native microenvironment and the signals that induce this same cell population to acquire a myofibroblast phenotype when these cells encounter the environment of the adjacent tissue culture platform. Here we show that on injury, the cytoskeletal protein vimentin is released into the extracellular space, binds to the cell surface of the mesenchymal leader cells located at the wound edge in the native matrix environment, and supports wound closure. In profibrotic environments, the extracellular vimentin pool also links specifically to the mesenchymal leader cells and has an essential role in signaling their fate change to a myofibroblast. These findings suggest a novel role for extracellular, cell-surface-associated vimentin in mediating repair-cell function in wound repair and in transitioning these cells to a myofibroblast phenotype.