Using green fluorescent protein (GFP) as an autofluorescent tag, we report the first successful visualization of a β3 integrin in a living cell. GFP fused in frame to the cytoplasmic tail of either αIIb or β3 allowed normal expression, heterodimerization, processing and surface exposure of αIIbGFPβ3 and αIIbβ3GFP receptors in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Direct microscopic observation of the autofluorescent cells in suspension following antibody-induced αIIbβ3 capping revealed an intense autofluorescent cap corresponding to unlabelled immunoclustered GFP-tagged αIIbβ3. GFP-tagged αIIbβ3 receptors mediated fibrinogen-dependent cell adhesion, were readily detectable in focal adhesions of unstained living cells and triggered p125FAK tyrosine phosphorylation similar to wild-type αIIbβ3 (where FAK corresponds to focal adhesion kinase). However, GFP tagged to β3, but not to αIIb, induced spontaneous CHO cell aggregation in the presence of soluble fibrinogen, as well as binding of the fibrinogen mimetic monoclonal antibody PAC1 in the absence of αIIbβ3 receptor activation. Time-lapse imaging of living transfectants revealed a characteristic redistribution of GFP-tagged αIIbβ3 during the early stages of cell attachment and spreading, starting with αIIbβ3 clustering at the rim of the cell contact area, that gradually overlapped with the boundary of the attached cell, and, with the onset of cell spreading, to a reorganization of αIIbβ3 in focal adhesions. Taken together, our results demonstrate that (1) fusion of GFP to the cytoplasmic tail of either αIIb or β3 integrin subunits allows normal cell surface expression of a functional receptor, and (2) structural modification of the β3 integrin cytoplasmic tail, rather than the αIIb subunit, plays a major role in αIIbβ3 affinity modulation. With the successful direct visualization of functional αIIbβ3 receptors in living cells, the generation of autofluorescent integrins in transgenic animals will become possible, allowing new approaches to study the dynamics of integrin functions.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.