Cells interact with extracellular fibronectin (FN) via adhesive fibronectin receptors (FNRs) that are members of the very late antigens (VLAs) subgroup of the integrin family. In stationary fibroblasts, the FNR is highly organized and distributed identically to extracellular FN fibrils. However, in highly migratory neural crest cells and embryonic somatic fibroblasts, this organization is lost and the FNR appears diffuse. Similarly, oncogenic transformation typically leads to disorganization of the FN receptor and loss of matrix FN. Two models can account for these observations. First, the FN matrix may organize the FN receptor at extracellular matrix contacts on the cell surface. Motile cells not depositing FN matrices thus lack organized receptors. Alternatively, as the FNR is required for optimal FN matrix assembly, (McDonald, J. A., B. J. Quade, T. J. Broekelmann, R. LaChance, K. Forseman, K. Hasegawa, and S. Akiyama. 1987. J. Biol. Chem. 272:2957-2967; Roman, J. R. M. LaChance, T. J. Broekelmann, C. J. R. Kennedy, E. A. Wayner, W. G. Carter, J. A. McDonald. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 108:2529-2543) and has putative cytoskeletal links, it could be organized from within the cell helping to position newly forming FN fibrils. To study this question, we developed peptide antibodies specifically recognizing the alpha 5 subunit of the FNR. Using these antibodies, we examined the organization of FN and of the FNR in normal, matrix assembly inhibited, and SV40-transformed human fibroblasts. On FN-coated substrates, the FNR is found in focal contacts rather than diffusely on the basal cell surface, suggesting FNR interaction with intracellular components. However, when FN fibrils are deposited, the FNR is co-distributed with these fibrils. Preventing FN matrix assembly prevents organization of the FNR. Moreover, when fibroblasts with well established FN matrices and co-distributed FNR are incubated briefly with monoclonal antibodies that block FNR binding to FN, the FNR is no longer co-distributed with the FN matrix. Thus, the FN receptor is organized in fibrils on the cell surface in response to extracellular FN. Because exogenous FN restores a FN matrix and receptor organization to SV40-transformed cells, the diffuse FN receptor phenotype appears to be related to loss of the FN matrix rather than to impaired FNR function. These results explain diffusely distributed FNRs in migratory neural crest and embryonic fibroblasts lacking well organized FN matrices and emphasize the existence of separate but related systems controlling FN deposition and recognition by receptor-armed cells.

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