A large number of studies have underscored a major role for the integrin alpha beta cytoplasmic domains in the modulation of cell functions. Cytoplasmic domain variants of the beta 1, beta 3, beta 4, alpha 3, alpha 6 and alpha 7 subunits have been described. These molecules are generated by alternative splicing events and are expressed in a cell- or tissue-type specific manner. Some of these variants (beta 1C, beta 1D, alpha 6A and alpha 7A) are predominantly expressed upon differentiation and have been shown to be regulated during development. The studies on the structure-function relationship of the integrin variant subunits, published between 1989 and now, will be reviewed here for the first time. The results demonstrate that differences in the cytoplasmic domain do not affect either the alpha beta heterodimer formation or the ligand specificity. Instead, alternatively spliced integrin cytoplasmic domains appear to be essential modulators of receptor localization, cell proliferation and migration, as well as phosphorylation of signaling molecules. These observations lead to the current hypothesis that cell-type specific regulation of alternatively spliced integrin cytoplasmic domains may provide a highly specialized mechanism to control cell growth and intracellular signaling pathways.