The molecules that mediate cell-matrix recognition, such as fibronectins (FN) and integrins, modulate cell behavior. We have previously demonstrated that FN and the beta 1-integrins are used during neural crest cell (NCC) migration in vitro as well as in vivo, and that the FN cell-binding domains I and II exhibit functional specificity in controlling either NCC attachment, spreading, or motility in vitro. In the present study, we have analyzed the effect of changes in the integrin expression patterns on migratory cell behavior in vivo. We have generated, after stable transfection, S180 cells expressing different levels of alpha 4 beta 1 or alpha 5 beta 1 integrins, two integrins that recognize distinct FN cell-binding domains. Murine S180 cells were chosen because they behave similarly to NCC after they are grafted into the NCC embryonic pathways in the chicken embryo. Thus, they provide a model system with which to investigate the mechanisms controlling in vitro and in vivo migratory cell behavior. We have observed that either the overexpression of alpha 5 beta 1 integrin or the induction of alpha 4 beta 1 expression in transfected S180 cells enhances their motility on FN in vitro. These genetically modified S180 cells also exhibit different migratory properties when grafted into the early trunk NCC migratory pathways. We observe that alpha 5 and low alpha 4 expressors migrate in both the ventral and dorsolateral paths simultaneously, in contrast to the parental S180 cells or the host NCC, which are delayed by 24 h in their invasion of the dorsolateral path. Moreover, the alpha 4 expressors exhibit different migratory properties according to their level of alpha 4 expression at the cell surface. Cells of the low alpha 4 expressor line invade both the ventral and dorsolateral pathways. In contrast, the high expressors remain as an aggregate at the graft site, possibly the result of alpha 4 beta 1-dependent homotypic aggregation. Thus, changes in the repertoire of FN-specific integrins enable the S180 cells to exploit different pathways in the embryo and regulate the speed with which they disperse in vivo and in culture. Our studies correlate well with known changes in integrin expression during neural crest morphogenesis and strongly suggest that neural crest cells that migrate into the dorsolateral path, i.e., melanoblasts, do so only after they have upregulated the expression of FN receptors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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