Cultured fibroblasts form focal contacts (FCs) associated with actin microfilament bundles (MFBs) during attachment and spreading on serum- or fibronectin (FN)-coated substrates. To determine if the minimum cellular adhesion receptor recognition signal Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser (RGDS) is sufficient to promote FC and MFB formation, rat (NRK), hamster (Nil 8), and mouse (Balb/c 3T3) fibroblasts in serum-free media were plated on substrates derivatized with small synthetic peptides containing RGDS. These cultures were studied with interference reflection microscopy to detect FCs, Normarski optics to identify MFBs, and immunofluorescence microscopy to observe endogenous FN fiber formation. By 1 h, 72-78% of the NRK and Nil 8 cells plated on RGDS-containing peptide had focal contacts without accompanying FN fibers, while these fibroblasts lacked FCs on control peptide. This early FC formation was followed by the appearance of coincident MFBs and colinear FN fibers forming fibronexuses at 4 h. NRK and Nil 8 cultures on substrates coated with native FN or 75,000-D FN-cell binding fragment showed similar kinetics of FC and MFB formation. In contrast, the Balb/c 3T3 mouse fibroblasts plated on Gly-Arg-Gly-Asp-Ser peptide-derivatized substrates, or on coverslips coated with 75,000-D FN cell-binding fragment, were defective in FC formation. These results demonstrate that the apparent binding of substrate-linked RGDS sequences to cell surface adhesion receptors is sufficient to promote early focal contact formation followed by the appearance of fibronexuses in some, but not all, fibroblast lines.

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