It has been previously shown that A-chain and domain(E8)-specific antibodies to laminin that inhibit cell adhesion also interfere with the establishment of epithelial cell polarity during kidney tubule development (Klein, G., M. Langegger, R. Timpl, and P. Ekblom. 1988. Cell. 55:331-341). A monoclonal antibody specific for the integrin alpha 6 subunit, which selectively blocks cell binding to E8, was used to study the receptors involved. Immunofluorescence staining of embryonic kidneys and of organ cultures of metanephric mesenchyme demonstrated coappearance of the integrin alpha 6 subunit and the laminin A-chain in regions where nonpolarized mesenchymal cells convert into polarized epithelial cells. Both epitopes showed marked colocalization in basal areas of tubules, while an exclusive immunostaining for alpha 6 was observed in lateral and apical cell surfaces of the tubular epithelial cells. Organ culture studies demonstrated a consistent inhibition of kidney epithelium development by antibodies against the alpha 6 subunit. The data suggest that the recognition of E8 cell-binding site of laminin by a specific integrin is crucial for the formation of kidney tubule epithelium from undifferentiated mesenchymal stem cells. In some other cell types (endothelium, some ureter cells) an exclusive expression of alpha 6 with no apparent colocalization of laminin A-chain in the corresponding basement membrane was seen. Thus, in these cells, integrins possessing the alpha 6 subunit may bind to laminin isoforms that differ from those synthesized by developing tubules.

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