Background: Integrins are transmembrane alphabeta heterodimer receptors that function as structural and functional bridges between the cytoskeleton and ECM (extracellular matrix) molecules. The RGD (arginine-glycine-aspartate tripeptide motif)-dependent integrin alpha8beta1 has been shown to be involved in various cell functions in neuronal and mesenchymal-derived cell types. Its role in epithelial cells remains unknown.
Results: Integrin alpha8beta1 was found to be expressed in the crypt cell population of the human intestine but was absent from differentiating and mature epithelial cells of the villus. The function of alpha8beta1 in epithelial crypt cells was investigated at the cellular level using normal HIECs (human intestinal epithelial cells). Specific knockdown of alpha8 subunit expression using an shRNA (small-hairpin RNA) approach showed that alpha8beta1 plays important roles in RGD-dependent cell adhesion, migration and proliferation via a RhoA/ROCK (Rho-associated kinase)-dependent mechanism as demonstrated by active RhoA quantification and pharmacological inhibition of ROCK. Moreover, loss of alpha8beta1, through RhoA/ROCK, impairs FA (focal adhesion) complex integrity as demonstrated by faulty vinculin recruitment.
Conclusions: Integrin alpha8beta1 is expressed in epithelial cells. In intestinal crypt cells, alpha8beta1 is closely involved in the regulation of adhesion, migration and cell proliferation via a predominant RhoA/ROCK-dependent mechanism. These results suggest an important role for this integrin in intestinal crypt cell homoeostasis.