A membrane glycoprotein complex was isolated and purified from human smooth muscle by detergent solubilization and affinity chromatography on collagen-Sepharose. The complex was identified as VLA-1 integrin and consisted of two subunits of 195 and 130 kD in SDS-PAGE. Liposomes containing the VLA-1 integrin adhered to surfaces coated with type I, II, III, and IV collagens, Clq subcomponent of the first component of the complement, and laminin. The liposomes specifically adhered to these proteins in a Ca2+, Mg2(+)-dependent manner, but did not bind to gelatin, fibronectin, and thrombospondin substrates. The expression of VLA-1 integrin in different human tissues and cell types, and during aorta smooth muscle development was studied by SDS-PAGE, and subsequent quantitative immunoblotting was performed with antibodies recognizing alpha 1 and beta 1 subunits of the VLA-1 integrin. A high level of VLA-1 integrin expression was an exceptional feature of smooth muscles. Fibroblasts, endothelial cells, keratinocytes, striated muscles, and platelets contained trace amounts of VLA-1 integrin. In the 10-wk-old human fetal aorta, VLA-1 integrin was found only in smooth muscle cells whereas mesenchymal cells, surrounding aortic smooth muscle cells, were VLA-1 integrin negative. By the 24th wk of gestation, the amount of VLA-1 integrin was significantly reduced in the aortic media (4.3-fold for alpha 1 subunit and 2.5-fold for beta 1 subunit) compared with that in the 10-wk-old aortic smooth muscle cells. After birth, the expression of VLA-1 integrin increased and in the 1.5-yr-old child aorta the VLA-1 integrin level was almost the same as in adult aortic media. Smooth muscle cells from intimal thickening of adult aorta express five times less alpha 1 subunit of VLA integrin that smooth muscle cells from adult aortic media. In primary culture of aortic smooth muscle cells, the content of the VLA-1 integrin was dramatically reduced and subcultured cells did not contain VLA-1 integrin at all.

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