During extracellular matrix assembly, fibronectin (FN) binds to cell surface receptors and initiates fibrillogenesis. As described in this report, matrix assembly has been dissected using recombinant FN polypeptides (recFNs) expressed in mammalian cells via retroviral vectors. RecFNs were assayed for incorporation into the detergent-insoluble cell matrix fraction and for formation of fibrils at the cell surface as detected by indirect immunofluorescence. Biochemical and immunocytochemical data are presented defining the minimum domain requirements for FN fibrillogenesis. The smallest functional recFN is half the size of native FN and contains intact amino- and carboxy-terminal regions with a large internal deletion spanning the collagen binding domain and the first seven type III repeats. Five type I repeats at the amino terminus are required for assembly and have FN binding activity. The dimer structure mediated by the carboxy-terminal interchain disulfide bonds is also essential. Surprisingly, recFNs lacking the RGDS cell binding site formed a significant fibrillar matrix. Therefore, FN-FN interactions and dimeric structure appear to be the major determinants of fibrillogenesis.

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