It has been suggested, on the basis of immunolocalization studies in vivo and antibody blocking experiments in vitro, that alpha 4 integrins interacting with vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) are involved in myogenesis and skeletal muscle development. To test this proposal, we generated embryonic stem (ES) cells homozygous null for the gene encoding the alpha 4 subunit and used them to generate chimeric mice. These chimeric mice showed high contributions of alpha 4- null cells in many tissues, including skeletal muscle, and muscles lacking any detectable (< 2%) alpha 4-positive cells did not reveal any gross morphological abnormalities. Furthermore, assays for in vitro myogenesis using either pure cultures of alpha 4-null myoblasts derived from the chimeras or alpha 4-null ES cells showed conclusively that alpha 4 integrins are not essential for muscle cell fusion and differentiation. Taking these results together, we conclude that alpha 4 integrins appear not to play essential roles in normal skeletal muscle development.