The alpha 3 beta 1 integrin is involved in the adhesion of metastatic breast cancer cells to the lymph nodes and to osteoblasts in the bone. Regulation of the affinity or avidity of integrins for their ligands may result from conformational changes induced by changes in the microenvironment of the integrin. Two surface proteins, 55 and 32 kDa, coimmunoprecipitated with the alpha 3 beta 1 integrin from breast carcinoma cells. The 55-kDa protein preferentially associated with the active form of the alpha 3 beta 1 integrin. The protein was identified as HSP60 using two-dimensional electrophoresis and mass spectrometry and confirmed by reimmunoprecipitation of the integrin immune complex with an anti-HSP60 antibody. In cell spreading assays on a thrombospondin-1 substrate, addition of exogenous-recombinant HSP60 was sufficient to specifically activate alpha 3 beta 1 integrin but not to activate function of alpha 2 beta 1, alpha v beta 3, alpha 4 beta 1, or alpha 5 beta 1 integrins. Furthermore, mizoribine, an HSP60-binding drug, blocked activation of the alpha 3 beta 1 integrin induced by insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) or exogenous recombinant HSP60 and inhibited the association of HSP60 with the integrin. Additionally, inhibiting the surface expression of endogenous HSP60 by nonactin inhibited activation of the alpha 3 beta 1 integrin by IGF1. These data demonstrate that HSP60 binding is sufficient to activate alpha 3 beta 1 integrin function and suggest that association of endogenous HSP60 with alpha 3 beta 1 integrin is necessary for IGF1-induced activation.