Integrins are transmembrane receptors that, upon activation, bind extracellular ligands and link them to the actin filament (F-actin) cytoskeleton to mediate cell adhesion and migration. Cytoskeletal forces in migrating cells generated by polymerization- or contractility-driven "retrograde flow" of F-actin from the cell leading edge have been hypothesized to mediate integrin activation for ligand binding. This predicts that these forces should align and orient activated, ligand-bound integrins at the leading edge. Here, polarization-sensitive fluorescence microscopy of GFP-αVβ3 integrins in fibroblasts shows that integrins are coaligned in a specific orientation within focal adhesions (FAs) in a manner dependent on binding immobilized ligand and a talin-mediated linkage to the F-actin cytoskeleton. These findings, together with Rosetta modeling, suggest that integrins in FA are coaligned and may be highly tilted by cytoskeletal forces. Thus, the F-actin cytoskeleton sculpts an anisotropic molecular scaffold in FAs, and this feature may underlie the ability of migrating cells to sense directional extracellular cues.
Keywords: cell migration; fluorescence polarization microscopy; mechanosensing.