Members of the integrin family of cell surface receptors have been shown to mediate a diverse range of cellular functions that require cell-cell or cell-extracellular matrix interactions. We have initiated the characterization of integrin receptors from the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, an organism in which genetics can be used to study integrin function with single cell resolution. Here we report the cloning of an integrin beta subunit from C. elegans which is shown to rescue the embryonic lethal mutation pat-3(rh54) and is thus named beta pat-3. Analysis of the deduced amino acid sequence revealed that beta pat-3 is more similar to Drosophila integrin beta PS and to vertebrate integrin beta 1 than to other integrin beta subunits. Regions of highest homology are in the RGD-binding region and in the cytoplasmic domain. In addition, the 56 cysteines present in the majority of integrin beta subunits are conserved. A major transcript of approximately 3 kilo-base pairs was detected by RNA blot analysis. Immunoblot analysis using a polyclonal antiserum against the cytoplasmic domain showed that beta pat-3 migrates in SDS-PAGE with apparent M(r) of 109 k and 120 k under nonreducing and reducing conditions, respectively. At least nine protein bands with relative molecular weights in the range observed for known integrin alpha subunits coprecipitate with beta pat-3, and at least three of these bands migrate in SDS-PAGE with increased mobility when reduced. This behavior has been observed for a majority of integrin alpha subunits. Immunoprecipitations of beta pat-3 from developmentally staged populations of C. elegans showed that the expression of several of these bands changes during development. The monoclonal antibody MH25, which has been postulated to recognize the transmembrane component of the muscle dense body structure a (Francis, G. R., and R. H. Waterston. 1985. Muscle organization in Caenorhabditis elegans: localization of proteins implicated in thin filament attachment and I-band organization. J. Cell Biol. 101:1532-1549), was shown to recognize beta pat-3. Finally, immunocytochemical analysis revealed that beta pat-3 is expressed in the embryo and in many cell types postembryonically, including muscle, somatic gonad, and coelomocytes, suggesting multiple roles for integrin heterodimers containing this beta subunit in the developing animal.