We have studied the function and distribution of the alpha 1 beta 1, alpha 5 beta 1 and alpha 6 beta 1 heterodimers on type-1 astrocytes with antibodies specific for integrin subunits (alpha 1, alpha 5, alpha 6, and beta 1). The alpha 1 beta 1 heterodimer mediates adhesion to laminin and collagen, the alpha 5 beta 1 to fibronectin in an RGD-dependent manner. The alpha 5 beta 1 integrin is found in focal contacts in long-term cultures of well-spread astrocytes colocalizing with vinculin and the termini of actin stress fibers. alpha 1 beta 1 heterodimers can occasionally be found as small aggregates within focal contacts but they do not accumulate there. Instead, alpha 1 beta 1 integrins are found in punctate deposits called point contacts which are distributed over the upper and the lower cell surfaces whether laminin, collagen, fibronectin or polylysine is used as a substratum. Unlike focal contacts, point contacts contain clathrin but rarely codistribute with actin or vinculin. Two observations indicate that these point contacts are functional. First, mAb 3A3, directed against the rat alpha 1 subunit, inhibits the attachment of astrocytes to laminin and collagen. Second, during the spreading of astrocytes, a band of point contacts forms around the cell perimeter at a time when no focal contacts are visible. While alpha 1 beta 1 integrins are found only in point contacts in astrocytes, the alpha 6 beta 1 integrin, another laminin receptor, is localized within focal contacts. Moreover, alpha 1 beta 1 heterodimers accumulate in focal contacts in fibroblasts. Thus, the alpha subunit contributes, independent of its ligand, to functional integrin heterodimer accumulation in focal contacts or in point contacts. This accumulation varies among different cell types with apparently identical heterodimers as well as with the motile state (spreading vs. flattened) of the same cells.

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