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J Cell Biol. 2009 Jan 26;184(2):309-22. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200806067.

Integrin alpha3beta1-dependent beta-catenin phosphorylation links epithelial Smad signaling to cell contacts.

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  • 1Pulmonary and Critical Care Division, Department of Medicine, and Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Injury-initiated epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) depends on contextual signals from the extracellular matrix, suggesting a role for integrin signaling. Primary epithelial cells deficient in their prominent laminin receptor, alpha3beta1, were found to have a markedly blunted EMT response to TGF-beta1. A mechanism for this defect was explored in alpha3-null cells reconstituted with wild-type (wt) alpha3 or point mutants unable to engage laminin 5 (G163A) or epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin; H245A). After TGF-beta1 stimulation, wt epithelial cells but not cells expressing the H245A mutant internalize complexes of E-cadherin and TGF-beta1 receptors, generate phospho-Smad2 (p-Smad2)-pY654-beta-catenin complexes, and up-regulate mesenchymal target genes. Although Smad2 phosphorylation is normal, p-Smad2-pY654-beta-catenin complexes do not form in the absence of alpha3 or when alpha3beta1 is mainly engaged on laminin 5 or E-cadherin in adherens junctions, leading to attenuated EMT. These findings demonstrate that alpha3beta1 coordinates cross talk between beta-catenin and Smad signaling pathways as a function of extracellular contact cues and thereby regulates responses to TGF-beta1 activation.

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