Epithelio–mesenchymal interactions during kidney organogenesis are disrupted in integrin α8β1-deficient mice. However, the known ligands for integrin α8β1—fibronectin, vitronectin, and tenascin-C—are not appropriately localized to mediate all α8β1 functions in the kidney. Using a method of general utility for determining the distribution of unknown integrin ligands in situ and biochemical characterization of these ligands, we identified osteopontin (OPN) as a ligand for α8β1. We have coexpressed the extracellular domains of the mouse α8 and β1 integrin subunits as a soluble heterodimer with one subunit fused to alkaline phosphatase (AP) and have used the α8β1-AP chimera as a histochemical reagent on sections of mouse embryos. Ligand localization with α8β1-AP in developing bone and kidney was observed to be overlapping with the distribution of OPN. In “far Western” blots of mouse embryonic protein extracts, bands were detected with sizes corresponding to fibronectin, vitronectin, and unknown proteins, one of which was identical to the size of OPN. In a solid-phase binding assay we demonstrated that purified OPN binds specifically to α8β1-AP. Cell adhesion assays using K562 cells expressing α8β1 were used to confirm this result. Together with a recent report that anti-OPN antibodies disrupt kidney morphogenesis, our results suggest that interactions between OPN and integrin α8β1 may help regulate kidney development and other morphogenetic processes
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