In epithelial cells integrins are segregated on discrete domains of the plasma membrane. Redistribution may also occur during migration or differentiation. However, little is known about the mechanisms that control such redistribution. Receptor internalization may be a part of one such mechanism. We developed a quantitative assay and measured internalization of two epithelial integrin heterodimers, alpha 6 beta 1 and alpha 6 beta 4, induced by cross-linking with specific antibodies. alpha 6 beta 1 is a receptor for EHS laminin, while alpha 6 beta 4 is a receptor for a component of the basement membrane. alpha 6 beta 4 plays an important role in the establishment of hemidesmosomes, and becomes redistributed on the epithelial cell surface when cells are in a migratory phase. We report that alpha 6 beta 4 is efficiently internalized in human keratinocytes. More than 25% of cell surface alpha 6 beta 4 was internalized at 30 minutes, after cross-linking with A9, an anti-beta 4 monoclonal antibody. alpha 6 beta 1 is also internalized, in melanoma and teratocarcinoma cells, with maximum values of 20% of total receptors expressed at the cell surface. No significant difference was observed between the alpha 6 isoforms A and B in these assays. To determine whether alpha 6 cytoplasmic domains could influence integrin endocytosis, we prepared chimeric constructs with the extracellular domain of a reporter protein (CD8), and the cytoplasmic domains of either alpha 6 A or alpha 6 B. Both alpha 6 cytoplasmic domains but not a control cytoplasmic domain promoted internalization of the chimeric proteins, after cross-linking with antibody. Internalization of alpha 6 integrins may have a role in redistributing these receptors at the cell surface. Furthermore, the cytoplasmic domains of alpha 6 may be involved in regulating integrin internalization.

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