Agonist stimulation of integrin receptors, composed of transmembrane α and β subunits, leads cells to regulate integrin affinity (‘activation’), a process that controls cell adhesion and migration, and extracellular matrix assembly. A final step in integrin activation is the binding of talin to integrin β cytoplasmic domains. We used forward, reverse and synthetic genetics to engineer and order integrin activation pathways of a prototypic integrin, platelet αIIbβ3. PMA activated αIIbβ3 only after expression of both PKCα (protein kinase Cα) and talin at levels approximating those in platelets. Inhibition of Rap1 GTPase reduced αIIbβ3 activation, whereas expression of constitutively active Rap1A(G12V) bypassed the requirement for PKCα. Overexpression of a Rap effector, RIAM (Rap1-GTP-interacting adaptor molecule), activated αIIbβ3 and bypassed the requirement for PKCα and Rap1. In addition, shRNA (short hairpin RNA)-mediated knockdown of RIAM blocked talin interaction with and activation of integrin αIIbβ3. Rap1 activation caused the formation of an ‘activation complex’ containing talin and RIAM that redistributed to the plasma membrane and activated αIIbβ3. The central finding was that this Rap1-induced formation of an ‘integrin activation complex’ leads to the unmasking of the integrin-binding site on talin, resulting in integrin activation.

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