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Open Access Research article

Cell adhesion and signaling on the fibronectin 1st type III repeat; requisite roles for cell surface proteoglycans and integrins

Kwesi O Mercurius and Alex O Morla*

Author Affiliations

Department of Pathology, MC 1089 Committee on Cancer Biology, University of Chicago, S. Maryland Ave, Chicago, IL, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2001, 2:18  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-2-18

Published: 20 August 2001



The first type III repeat of fibronectin is known to be involved in fibronectin matrix assembly, and recombinant proteins from this type III repeat can inhibit cell proliferation, tumor metastasis and angiogenesis. We have analyzed the way rat aortic smooth muscle cells (RASMCs) interact with a recombinant protein encompassing a C-terminal portion of the first type III repeat of fibronectin (protein III1-C).


Cells are able to adhere to and spread on III1-C coated on a dish. Both β1 integrins and cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans serve as receptors for III1-C. For example, cell attachment to III1-C is partially inhibited by agents that block β1 integrins or by heparin. Complete inhibition of cell attachment is seen only when integrin blocking agents are combined with heparin. Affinity chromatography revealed the binding of proteins that likely represent the integrin β1 and α5 submits to a III1-C column. Cell adhesion to III1-C results in robust ERK1/2 activation that is blocked by integrin-blocking agents. In addition, cell adhesion to III1-C and ERK1/2 activation by III1-C are both inhibited by heparan sulfate but not by chondroitin sulfate. Moreover, heparitinase treatment, but not chondroitinase treatment of RASMCs results in reduced cell adhesion and ERK1/2 activation. Affinity chromatography experiments demonstrated that 35SO4-labeled cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans bound specifically to III1-C.


The results suggest that the 1st type III repeat of fibronectin contains a previously unrecognized cell adhesion domain that stimulates robust ERK1/2 activation in RASMCs. Cells interact with this domain through cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans and integrins, and both classes of receptors are required for optimal cell adhesion and ERK1/2 activation.