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Basal cells of stratified epidermis are anchored to the basement membrane zone (BMZ) of skin via hemidesmosomes. We previously identified integrin alpha 3 beta 1, in focal adhesions (FAs), of cultured human keratinocytes (HFKs) as a mediator of HFK adhesion to secreted BMZ-like extracellular matrix (ECM; Carter, W.G., E.A. Wayner, T.S. Bouchard, and P. Kaur. 1990. J. Cell Biol. 110: 1387-1404). Here, we have examined the relation of integrins alpha 6 beta 4 and alpha 3 beta 1, to bullous pemphigoid antigen (BPA), a component of hemidesmosomes. We conclude that alpha 6 beta 4 in HFKs localizes in a new stable anchoring contact (SAC) that cooperates with alpha 3 beta 1- FAs to mediate adhesion to ECM, based on the following. (a) Comparison of secreted ECM, with exogenous laminin, fibronectin and collagen identified ECM as the preferred ligand for HFK adhesion and spreading and for formation of both alpha 6 beta 4-SACs and alpha 3 beta 1-FAs. (b) Inhibition of HFK adhesion with combined anti-alpha 3 beta 1 (P1B5) and anti-alpha 6 beta 4 (GoH3) antibodies indicated that both receptors were functional in adhesion to ECM while alpha 3 beta 1 played a dominant role in spreading. (c) alpha 6 beta 4 colocalized with BPA in SACs that were proximal to but excluded from FAs. Both alpha 6 beta 4- SACs and alpha 3 beta 1-FAs were in contact with the adhesion surface as indicated by antibody exclusion and interference reflection microscopy. (d) In contrast to alpha 3 beta 1-FAs, alpha 6 beta 4-SACs were present only in nonmotile cells, not associated with stress fibers, and were relatively stable to detergents and urea, suggesting a nonmotile, or anchoring function for SACs and motility functions for alpha 3 beta 1-FAs. (e) alpha 6 beta 4 formed a detergent-insoluble complex with exogenous ECM in an affinity isolation procedure, confirming the ability of an unidentified ECM ligand to interact with alpha 6 beta 4. (f) We suggest that alpha 6 beta 4/BPA-SACs in culture restrict migration of HFKs on ECM while alpha 3 beta 1-FAs form dynamic adhesions in spreading and migrating cells. alpha 6 beta 4/BPA-SACs in culture bear functional and compositional similarities to hemidesmosomes in skin.