Diffuse invasion of brain tissue by single tumor cells is a characteristic feature of gliomas and a major reason why these tumors cannot be completely resected. The molecular basis of brain invasion is poorly understood. We regulated the expression of beta 1 integrins, the major group of extracellular matrix receptors, in astrocytic tumor cells by using a tetracycline-dependent transcription control system. Rat C6 glioma cells were stably transfected with (a) the tetracycline-controlled transactivator (tTA) gene, (b) antisense beta 1 cDNA under the control of a tTA/tetracycline-responsive promoter, and (c) the beta-galactosidase (lacZ) gene for histochemical identification. In one clone, C6TL beta, beta 1 protein levels were unaffected in the presence of tetracycline, but they were reduced by 60% in the absence of tetracycline because of production of antisense mRNA. C6TL beta cells were transplanted into the striatum of nude mice. After 14 days in the presence of tetracycline in the drinking water, tumors showed diffuse brain invasion, mainly along vascular basement membranes. In the absence of tetracycline, however, tumor cells were compact and generally well delineated from the surrounding brain tissue. These data, ie, blocking of brain invasion by antisense beta 1 mRNA, either because of disturbed interaction of beta 1 with brain extracellular matrix components or interference with beta 1-dependent signaling pathways, strongly suggest that beta 1 integrins are required for diffuse brain invasion of gliomas.