In this article we discuss three aspects of cell contact formation: (a) the molecular architecture of the cytomatrix in cell-to-substrate focal contacts, (b) the dynamic properties of membrane- and microfilament-associated proteins in the contact areas, and (c) the involvement of microtubules in the coordinated and directed formation of new substrate contacts during cell locomotion. We show that different microfilament-associated proteins exhibit distinct patterns of association with focal contacts: some proteins are specifically associated with focal contacts (vinculin and talin); alpha-actinin is enriched in the contact areas but also is present along the stress fibers and in the lamellipodium; actin and filamin are detected throughout the contact areas but in apparently reduced amounts compared with the associated stress fibers; and tropomyosin, myosin, and spectrin are either absent from the endofacial surfaces of contact areas or are present in only very small amounts. Fluorescence photobleaching recovery analyses performed with living cells microinjected with fluorescently labeled actin, vinculin, and alpha-actinin indicate that each of these proteins maintains a dynamic equilibrium between a soluble cytoplasmic pool and a membrane-bound fraction. Correlation of the distribution of vinculin and tubulin in motile fibroblasts to local movements of the leading edge of the same cells indicates that free-end microtubules extend into actively ruffling areas along the lamellipodium and that new vinculin-containing contacts are preferentially formed in these protruding regions.

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