Hemidesmosomes are important adhesion devices found in epithelial cells. They connect the intermediate filament cytoskeleton network with components of the basement membrane zone. 804G cells are an unusual epithelial cell line, since they form bona fide hemidesmosomes when plated on glass or plastic. In this study we tested an hypothesis: that this ability is a consequence of an extracellular component produced by the 804G cells. As probes for our study we generated a rabbit antiserum (J18) and monoclonal antibodies against components of urea-solubilized 804G matrix. Antibodies in the J18 serum recognize major lectin-binding polypeptides of 150, 140 and 135 kDa in the 804G matrix. A monoclonal antibody (5C5) that shows reactivity with the 150 and 135 kDa polypeptides in western immunoblots immunoprecipitates all three molecular mass species, indicating that these polypeptides are part of a matrix complex. Moreover, one, at least, of these matrix elements is immunologically related to laminin, since J18 antibodies selected on fusion protein fragments of a newly characterized laminin variant, laminin B2t (Kallunki et al., J. Cell Biol., 119, 679–694, 1992), react with the 140 kDa polypeptide component of the 804G cell matrix. To undertake functional analyses of 804G matrix, cells of the human epidermal carcinoma line SCC12, which do not assemble bona fide hemidesmosomes in vitro, were cultured on 804G matrix for 24 h and then analysed by confocal immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. In SCC12 cells maintained on 804G cell matrix, hemidesmosomal antigens localize in a distinctive leopard spot pattern that mirrors the distribution of 804G matrix elements. Furthermore, ultrastructural analysis reveals that the 804G cell matrix supports the formation of ‘mature’ hemidesmosomes by SCC12 cells. Thus 804G cell matrix is a remarkable tool for hemidesmosome studies and it will now be of great importance to determine the exact composition of the 804G matrix, especially its structural and antigenic relationship to laminins.

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