The ability of single subunit chimeric receptors containing various integrin beta intracellular domains to mimic and/or inhibit endogenous integrin function was examined. Chimeric receptors consisting of the extracellular and transmembrane domains of the small subunit of the human interleukin-2 receptor connected to either the beta 1, beta 3, beta 3B, or beta 5 intracellular domain were transiently expressed in normal human fibroblasts. When expressed at relatively low levels, the beta 3 and beta 5 chimeras mimicked endogenous ligand-occupied integrins and, like the beta 1 chimera (LaFlamme, S. E., S. K. Akiyama, and K. M. Yamada. 1992. J. Cell Biol. 117:437), concentrated with endogenous integrins in focal adhesions and sites of fibronectin fibril formation. In contrast, the chimeric receptor containing the beta 3B intracellular domain (a beta 3 intracellular domain modified by alternative splicing) was expressed diffusely on the cell surface, indicating that alternative splicing can regulate integrin receptor distribution by an intracellular mechanism. Furthermore, when expressed at higher levels, the beta 1 and beta 3 chimeric receptors functioned as dominant negative mutants and inhibited endogenous integrin function in localization to fibronectin fibrils, fibronectin matrix assembly, cell spreading, and cell migration. The beta 5 chimera was a less effective inhibitor, and the beta 3B chimera and the reporter lacking an intracellular domain did not inhibit endogenous integrin function. Comparison of the relative levels of expression of the transfected beta 1 chimera and the endogenous beta 1 subunit indicated that in 10 to 15 h assays, the beta 1 chimera can inhibit cell spreading when expressed at levels approximately equal to the endogenous beta 1 subunit. Levels of chimeric receptor expression that inhibited cell spreading also inhibited cell migration, whereas lower levels were able to inhibit alpha 5 beta 1 localization to fibrils and matrix assembly. Our results indicate that single subunit chimeric integrins can mimic and/or inhibit endogenous integrin receptor function, presumably by interacting with cytoplasmic components critical for endogenous integrin function. Our results also demonstrate that beta intracellular domains, expressed in this context, display specificity in their abilities to mimic and inhibit endogenous integrin function. Furthermore, the approach that we have used permits the analysis of intracellular domain function in the processes of cell spreading, migration and extracellular matrix assembly independent of effects due to the rest of integrin dimers. This approach should prove valuable in the further analysis of integrin intracellular domain function in these and other integrin-mediated processes requiring the interaction of integrins with cytoplasmic components.

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