Mesenchymal cell migration on basal lamina is mediated, in part, by the binding of cell surface beta 1,4-galactosyltransferase (GalTase) to specific N-linked oligosaccharides in the E8 domain of laminin. On migrating cells, surface GalTase is anchored to the cytoskeleton; when GalTase is prevented from associating with the cytoskeleton, lamellipodia formation and subsequent migration are inhibited. To define better the involvement of GalTase-cytoskeleton interactions in cell motility, we examined the lamellipodia formation, polarity and migratory behavior of stably transfected 3T3 fibroblasts expressing increased or decreased levels of GalTase capable of interacting with the cytoskeleton. Initially, the motile behavior of individual cells was quantified in the absence of exogenous stimuli. Cells that overexpress GalTase binding sites for the cytoskeleton changed their polarity more frequently and translocated more erratically than did control cells when assayed on laminin substrata. These differences were not observed, however, when cells were plated on fibronectin, which does not contain binding sites for surface GalTase. GalTase-transfected cells were also assayed for their ability to polarize in response to a specific stimulus. In this case, the ability of a cell to reorient towards a gradient of platelet-derived growth factor was found to be directly proportional to the amount of GalTase associated with the cytoskeleton. Differences in response to platelet-derived growth factor were not due to differences in growth factor binding. Indirect immunofluorescence showed that altering the level of GalTase did not affect the ventrally distributed pool of GalTase stably associated with the cytoskeleton; however, stress fiber formation was inhibited. Thus, increasing surface GalTase binding sites for the cytoskeleton leads to erratic, multipolar behavior in the absence of any vectorial stimulus, but the ability to form a functional lamellipodium in response to a stimulus is dependent upon the amount of surface GalTase associated with the cytoskeleton. Apparently, cells are able to regulate cytoskeletal assembly and lamellipodial stability by altering the expression and/or affinity of appropriate matrix receptors, such as GalTase, and their corresponding binding sites in the cytoskeleton.

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