N-Glycosylation of integrin α5β1 plays a crucial role in cell spreading, cell migration, ligand binding, and dimer formation, but the detailed mechanisms by which N-glycosylation mediates these functions remain unclear. In a previous study, we showed that three potential N-glycosylation sites (α5S3–5) on the β-propeller of the α5 subunit are essential to the functional expression of the subunit. In particular, site 5 (α5S5) is the most important for its expression on the cell surface. In this study, the function of the N-glycans on the integrin β1 subunit was investigated using sequential site-directed mutagenesis to remove the combined putative N-glycosylation sites. Removal of the N-glycosylation sites on the I-like domain of the β1 subunit (i.e. the Δ4-6 mutant) decreased both the level of expression and heterodimeric formation, resulting in inhibition of cell spreading. Interestingly, cell spreading was observed only when the β1 subunit possessed these three N-glycosylation sites (i.e. the S4-6 mutant). Furthermore, the S4-6 mutant could form heterodimers with either α5S3-5 or α5S5 mutant of the α5 subunit. Taken together, the results of the present study reveal for the first time that N-glycosylation of the I-like domain of the β1 subunit is essential to both the heterodimer formation and biological function of the subunit. Moreover, because the α5S3-5/β1S4-6 mutant represents the minimal N-glycosylation required for functional expression of the β1 subunit, it might also be useful for the study of molecular structures
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