A cell-free system to study regulation of focal adhesions and of the connected actin cytoskeleton

Anna Cattelino, Chiara Albertinazzi, Mario Bossi, David R. Critchley, Ivan De Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Assembly and modulation of focal adhesions during dynamic adhesive processes are poorly understood. We describe here the use of ventral plasma membranes from adherent fibroblasts to explore mechanisms regulating integrin distribution and function in a system that preserves the integration of these receptors into the plasma membrane. We find that partial disruption of the cellular organization responsible for the maintenance of organized adhesive sites allows modulation of integrin distribution by divalent cations. High Ca2+ concentrations induce quasi-reversible diffusion of β1 integrins out of focal adhesions, whereas low Ca2+ concentrations induce irreversible recruitment of β1 receptors along extracellular matrix fibrils, as shown by immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. Both effects are independent from the presence of actin stress fibers in this system. Experiments with cells expressing truncated β1 receptors show that the cytoplasmic portion of β1 is required for low Ca2+-induced recruitment of the receptors to matrix fibrils. Analysis with function-modulating antibodies indicates that divalent cation-mediated receptor distribution within the membrane correlates with changes in the functional state of the receptors. Moreover, reconstitution experiments show that purified α-actinin colocalizes and redistributes with β1 receptors on ventral plasma membranes depleted of actin, implicating binding of α-actinin to the receptors. Finally, we found that recruitment of exogenous actin is specifically restricted to focal adhesions under conditions in which new actin polymerization is inhibited. Our data show that the described system can be exploited to investigate the mechanisms of integrin function in an experimental setup that permits receptor redistribution. The possibility to uncouple, under cell-free conditions, events involved in focal adhesion and actin cytoskeleton assembly should facilitate the comprehension of the underlying molecular mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-391
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Biology of the Cell
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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