Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 725 - 731 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Integrin function and regulation in development.

G Tarone, E Hirsch, M Brancaccio, M De Acetis, L Barberis, F Balzac, S F Retta, C Botta, F Altruda, L Silengo and F Retta

Department of Genetics, Biology and Biochemistry, University of Torino, Italy. guido.tarone@unito.it

ABSTRACT Integrins are a large family of membrane receptors, consisting of alpha and beta subunits, that play a pivotal role in the interaction of cells with the extracellular matrix. Such interaction regulates the organization of cells in organs and tissues during development as well as cell differentiation and proliferation. We have shown that unfertilized oocytes express integrins that might be important during fertilization. We also analyzed nervous system and muscle tissue development showing that integrin expression is precisely regulated during organization of these tissues. The results indicate that two distinct integrin alpha subunits mediate the outgrowth of processes in nerve and glial cells. Alpha1 integrin, a laminin receptor, is up-regulated by nerve growth factor and other differentiation stimuli and is involved in neurite extension by nerve cells. In contrast, process extension by glial cells is likely to involve the alphaV integrin. Moreover, the latter integrin subunit is also transiently expressed in muscle of the embryo body where it localizes predominantly at developing myotendinous junctions. After birth this integrin disappears and is substituted by the alpha7 subunit. At the same time, important changes also occur in the expression of the associated beta subunit. In fact, the beta1A isoform which is expressed in fetal muscles, is substituted by beta1D. These isoforms are generated by alternative splicing and differ in only a few amino acid residues at the COOH terminus of the protein. This region of the molecule is exposed at the cytoplasmic face of the plasma membrane and is connected to the actin filaments. Our results show that beta1D, which is expressed only in striated muscle tissues, binds to both cytoskeletal and extracellular matrix proteins with an affinity higher than beta1A. Thus, beta1D provides a stronger link between the cytoskeleton and extracellular matrix necessary to support mechanical tension during muscle contraction. These results indicate that cells can regulate their interactions with the extracellular matrix by changing their expression of alpha integrin subunits and thus ligand specificity, or by more subtle changes involving alternative usage of different cytoplasmic domains. The important role of both alpha and beta integrin subunit cytoplasmic domains during development is further illustrated by the analysis of targeted mutations which we have generated by homologous recombination in mice.