The integrin superfamily of heterodimeric transmembrane adhesion receptors mediates many cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions whose functions are believed to be critical for normal morphogenesis and differentiation. By eliminating the beta 1 integrin gene through homologous recombination, we have assessed the role of the beta 1 integrin family in the F9 embryonal carcinoma model for endodermal differentiation. F9 cells were unexpectedly found to maintain three copies of the beta 1 gene and complete elimination required three sequential rounds of targeting to generate triple knockout lines (beta 1 TKO). Elimination of the beta 1 integrin family of adhesion receptors from F9 cells resulted in reduced adhesion to fibronectin, laminin and collagen, but strongly enhanced adhesion to vitronectin. The absence of beta 1 integrins did not promote significant compensatory upregulation of either beta 3 or beta 5 subunits, both of which are known to act as vitronectin receptors when associated with alpha v. The loss of beta 1 integrins severely affected morphological differentiation when the beta 1-deficient cells were induced to differentiate to either parietal or visceral endoderm. Parietal endoderm derived from beta 1-deficient cells retained a rounded morphology and migrated poorly on both fibronectin and vitronectin. Visceral endoderm derived from beta 1-deficient cells were also unable to form a normal, confluent epithelial monolayer; instead, a non-contiguous layer containing clumps of disorganized cells was observed. However, loss of beta 1 integrins did not interfere with induction by differentiating agents of tissue-specific gene products for either visceral or parietal endoderm. These results suggest that beta 1 integrins mediate morphological differentiation (migration and epithelial formation) but not tissue-specific gene expression in induced F9 cells, and that these two processes are not necessarily linked in this system.

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