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, α3β1, were found to have a markedly blunted EMT response to TGF-β1. A mechanism for this defect was explored in α3-null cells reconstituted with wild-type (wt) α3 or point mutants unable to engage laminin 5 (G163A) or epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin; H245A). After TGF-β1 stimulation, wt epithelial cells but not cells expressing the H245A mutant internalize complexes of E-cadherin and TGF-β1 receptors, generate phospho-Smad2 (p-Smad2)–pY654–β-catenin complexes, and up-regulate mesenchymal target genes. Although Smad2 phosphorylation is normal, p-Smad2–pY654–β-catenin complexes do not form in the absence of α3 or when α3β1 is mainly engaged on laminin 5 or E-cadherin in adherens junctions, leading to attenuated EMT. These findings demonstrate that α3β1 coordinates cross talk between β-catenin and Smad signaling pathways as a function of extracellular contact cues and thereby regulates responses to TGF-β1 activation
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