Branching epithelial morphogenesis requires interactions between the surrounding mesenchyme and the epithelium, as well as interactions between basement membrane components and the epithelium. Embryonic submandibular gland was used to study the roles of two mesenchymal proteins, epimorphin and tenascin-C, as well as the epithelial protein laminin-1 and one of its integrin receptors on branching morphogenesis. Laminin-1 is a heterotrimer composed of an alpha 1 chain and two smaller chains (beta 1 and gamma 1). Immunofluorescence revealed a transient expression of laminin alpha 1 chain in the epithelial basement membrane during early stages of branching morphogenesis. Other laminin-1 chains and alpha 6, beta 1, and beta 4 integrin subunits seemed to be expressed constitutively. Expression of epimorphin, but not tenascin-C, was seen in the mesenchyme during early developmental stages, but a mAb against epimorphin did not perturb branching morphogenesis of this early epithelium. In contrast, inhibition of branching morphogenesis was seen with a mAb against the carboxy terminus of laminin alpha 1 chain, the E3 domain. An inhibition of branching was also seen with a mAb against the integrin alpha 6 subunit. The antibodies against laminin alpha 1 chain and integrin alpha 6 subunit perturbed development in distinct fashions. Whereas treatment with the anti-E3 resulted in discontinuities of the basement membrane at the tips of the branching epithelium, treatment with the mAb against alpha 6 integrin subunit seemed to leave the basement membrane intact. We suggest that the laminin E3 domain is involved in basement membrane formation, whereas alpha 6 beta 1 integrin binding to laminin-1 may elicit differentiation signals to the epithelial cells.

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