The integrin VLA-3 is a cell surface receptor, which binds to fibronectin, laminin, collagen type I and VI (Takada, Y., E. A. Wayner, W. G. Carter, and M. E. Hemler. 1988. J. Cell. Biochem. 37:385-393) and is highly expressed in substrate adherent cultures of almost all human cell types. The ligand specificity of VLA-3 and the inhibition of cell adhesion by anti-VLA-3 monoclonal antibodies suggest its involvement in cell-substrate interaction. In normal tissues, VLA-3 is restricted to few cell types, notably the kidney glomeruli and basal cells of the epidermis. In the epidermis, VLA-3 is generally strongly expressed on the entire plasma membrane of basal cells and is not polarized towards the basement membrane (Klein, C. E., C. Cardon-Cardo, R. Soehnchen, R. J. Cote, H. F. Oettgen, M. Eisinger, and L. J. Old. 1987. J. Invest. Dermatol. 89:500-507). Based on this finding we speculated that, in addition to a role of VLA-3 for adhesion of cells to substrate, it could also be relevant for cell-cell interaction. To investigate this, we ultrastructurally localized VLA-3 on the surface of cultured cells by immunoelectron microscopy. In accordance with our concept, we found VLA-3 strongly associated with intercellular contact sites. Interestingly, very little immunoreactivity was detected at the under-surface of cells which had been cultured for 18-32 h. This observation was unexpected but is consistent with previous findings (Kantor, R. R. S., M. J. Mattes, K. D. Lloyd, L. J. Old, and A. P. Albino. 1987. J. Biol. Chem. 262:15158-15165) which suggest that the association of VLA-3 with the basal surface of substrate adherent tumor cells is a late event occurring after days of culture under confluent conditions. However, we cannot formally rule out VLA-3 expression at the undersurface of cells under our experimental conditions, since VLA-3 molecules at this location could be inaccessible for in situ labeling of unfixed cells because of spatial interferences. In conclusion, our results demonstrate the expression of VLA-3 at intercellular contact sites of cultured cells supporting the concept that it may be relevant for intercellular interactions also.

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