Integrins in cell adhesion and signaling

Hum Cell. 1996 Sep;9(3):181-6.


Cell adhesive interactions play important roles during many normal physiological processes such as embryonic development and wound repair, and also during the progression of diseases such as cancer. Cell adhesion is mediated by the specific interactions of cell surface receptors with extracellular glycoproteins. The best characterized cell adhesion receptors are the integrins. Integrins comprise a family of more than 23 noncovalent, heterodimeric complexes consisting of an alpha and a beta subunit. Each subunit is a glycoprotein with a large, globular extracellular domain and a transmembrane domain. Most integrins have relatively small cytoplasmic domains consisting of fewer than 60 amino acids. Although many integrins can bind fibronectin, the alpha 5, beta 1, integrin is the major fibronectin receptor on most cells. This integrin mediates such cellular responses to fibronectin substrates as adhesion, migration, assembly of extracellular matrix, and signal transduction. Integrin ligands, such as fibronectin, are not passive adhesive molecules but are active participants in the cell adhesive process that leads to signal transduction. The best characterized integrin ligand is fibronectin. Fibronectin is a multifunctional glycoprotein comprised of three different types of homologous repeating units (termed type I, type II, and type III). Fibronectin has at least two independent cell adhesive regions: one located near the center of the polypeptide chain in the ninth and tenth type III modules binds to the alpha 5 beta 1 integrin. The biological function of the central cell adhesive region requires two critical amino acid sequences--an Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) sequence and a Pro-His-Ser-Arg-Asn (PHSRN) sequence, which function in synergy--for optimal binding to the alpha 5 beta 1 integrin. Furthermore, the spacing between the crucial RGD and PHSRN sequences is also important for activity, suggesting the sequences themselves are necessary, but not sufficient, to account for the cell adhesive activity of fibronectin. One of the manifestations of integrin-mediated signal transduction including protein tyrosine phosphorylation. One cytoplasmic protein that is phosphorylated in response to cell adhesion is the focal adhesion kinase known as pp125FAK or FAK. The beta 1, beta 3, and beta 5 integrin intracellular domains are sufficient to initiate signal transduction pathways. Furthermore, alternative splicing can regulate the ability of beta integrin intracellular domains to participate in signal transduction. Other intracellular responses to cell adhesion include stimulation of migration, the assembly of an F-actin cytoskeleton and specialized structures called focal contacts, changes of cytoplasmic pH and calcium ion concentration, and modulation of proliferation and gene expression. Such varied modes of signal transduction are probably differentially controlled by a mechanism that requires either integrin receptor clustering alone, ligand occupancy in addition to clustering, or clustering and/or ligand occupancy plus tyrosine kinase activity for different responses. The examination of the fundamental mechanisms important for adhesion of cultured human cells and the resultant signaling processes has the potential of providing an understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in complex physiological processes and serving the basis for the development of novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of human disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Adhesion / physiology*
  • Fibronectins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Integrins / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Fibronectins
  • Integrins