The heterodimeric vitronectin receptor (VNR) and platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa (GPIIb/IIIa) are two members of the integrin family of cell adhesion receptors that share the same beta subunit (GPIIIa). These proteins are involved in binding to vitronectin, fibrinogen and fibronectin and in cytoskeleton-membrane interactions. The present study shows that the human placental syncytiotrophoblast brush border membrane contains a heterodimer of subunit Mr values of 140,000 and 90,000 (non-reduced) or 125,000 and 100,000 (reduced). This protein was recognized by a monoclonal antibody to GPIIIa, rabbit antisera to the VNR and a human alloantiserum to GPIIIa. Brush border VNR-related protein bound to an immobilized peptide containing the Arg-Gly-Asp sequence and, less avidly, to immobilized fibrinogen. Only a small fraction of brush border VNR was associated with a cytoskeleton fraction. Membrane-bound brush border GPIIIa was distinct from that of platelets in its resistance to digestion by trypsin and Staphylococcus aureus V8 protease, and had a slightly lower mobility on SDS/PAGE. In addition, lectin-binding studies indicate glycosylation differences between microvillar and platelet GPIIIa heterodimers. Thus, although placental syncytiotrophoblast expresses a beta 3 integrin in its apical brush border, differences in protease sensitivity and carbohydrate content suggest that it may lack or mask certain antigenic determinants. This may be beneficial in avoiding harmful maternal alloantibody responses during pregnancy. Immunohistology showed that the VNR was present in syncytiotrophoblast apical but not basal plasma membranes, and was absent from other forms of trophoblast. The brush border VNR could function in localizing Arg-Gly-Asp-sequence-containing plasma proteins to the materno-trophoblastic interface.

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