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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 1995 May;12(5):547-56.

Distribution of integrins alpha v beta 6 and alpha 9 beta 1 and their known ligands, fibronectin and tenascin, in human airways.

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Lung Biology Center, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


We have previously identified two integrins, alpha 9 beta 1 and alpha v beta 6, from guinea pig airway epithelium. The extracellular matrix protein tenascin is a ligand for both of these receptors, and fibronectin is also a ligand for alpha v beta 6. In the present study, we used immunohistochemistry to examine the expression and spatial distribution of the alpha 9 subunit, alpha v beta 6, tenascin, and fibronectin in the proximal airways of 10 normal nonsmoking subjects and eight patients undergoing lung resection for cancer. We also performed the same analyses on sections of peripheral lung obtained from an additional seven subjects undergoing lung resection. alpha 9 was highly expressed throughout the airway epithelium (but not on alveolar epithelium) irrespective of clinical status. In contrast, alpha v beta 6 was expressed on proximal airway epithelial cells in four of eight smokers undergoing lung resection, but in none of the normal subjects and none of the distal airways examined. On bronchial epithelial cells cultured from resected airways, alpha v beta 6 was highly expressed on cells grown from patients who did not appear to express the receptor in vivo, as well as from subjects who did, suggesting that some component of the in vitro environment can induce expression. Although both tenascin and fibronectin were present below the proximal airway epithelium of both normal nonsmoking subjects and smokers, the spatial patterns of integrin and ligand expression were not congruent, because the integrins were present diffusely on the cell surface and on some cells that were not in contact with the basement membrane, whereas the ligands were present principally in the subepithelial layer. These findings are compatible with the existence of as-yet unidentified ligands for each of these integrins--for example, ligands involved in homotypic cell-cell interactions within the epithelium.

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