Previously, we have establish K562 transfectants that express either alpha 6A beta 1 or alpha 6B beta 1 (K alpha 6A or K alpha 6B) on their surface. Both cell lines bind to laminin and kalinin after treatment with the beta 1-stimulatory antibody TS2/16. Here we introduce the full-length beta 4 cDNA into the alpha 6A- and alpha 6B-expressing K562 cells and selected stably transfected cells. The beta 4 subunit was expressed on the surface of both transfectants and it formed dimers with the alpha 6A or alpha 6B subunits. Immunoprecipitation and preclearing analyses revealed that both transfectants expressed alpha 6 beta 1, in addition to alpha 6 beta 4. While K alpha 6A and K alpha 6B cells required TS2/16 stimulation for binding to laminin or kalinin, adhesion of the unstimulated beta 4-transfected K alpha 6A and K alpha 6B cells to these matrix components was already substantial. This adhesion was mediated by both alpha 6 beta 1 and alpha 6 beta 4 since it was completely blocked by an alpha 6-specific antibody or by a combination of anti-beta 1 and anti-beta 4 antibodies, but only partially by either of these latter two antibodies alone. Adhesion to laminin was completely blocked by an antiserum to laminin fragment E8 as was the adhesion to kalinin by an antibody to kalinin, demonstrating the specificity of adhesion. Both transfectants always adhered more strongly to kalinin than to laminin. Furthermore, binding to kalinin was less well blocked by antibodies to beta 4 than binding to laminin, indicating that the affinity of alpha 6 beta 4 for kalinin is higher than that for laminin. The fact that alpha 6 beta 1 mediated adhesion without TS2/16 stimulation on the beta 4-transfected K alpha 6A and K alpha 6B cells suggests that some activation of alpha 6 beta 1 had occurred in these cells, even though binding was increased when they were actively stimulated by the antibody TS2/16. Finally, we show that Mn2+ induced binding of solubilized alpha 6 beta 4 to matrix containing kalinin, deposited by the murine cell line RAC-11P/SD. This binding was inhibited by the anti-alpha 6 mAb GoH3. Together, these results indicate that both alpha 6 beta 1 and alpha 6 beta 4 are receptors for laminin and kalinin and that there are no differences in ligand specificity between the A and B variants of the alpha 6 subunit when associated with either beta 1 or beta 4.