Detachment of basal keratinocytes from basement membrane signals a differentiation cascade. Two integrin receptors alpha6beta4 and alpha3beta1 mediate adhesion to laminin 5 (epiligrin), a major extracellular matrix protein in the basement membrane of epidermis. By establishing a low temperature adhesion system at 4 degrees C, we were able to examine the exclusive role of alpha6beta4 in adhesion of human foreskin keratinocyte (HFK) and the colon carcinoma cell LS123. We identified a novel 80-kD membrane-associated protein (p80) that is tyrosine phosphorylated in response to dissociation of alpha6beta4 from laminin 5. The specificity of p80 phosphorylation for laminin 5 and alpha6beta4 was illustrated by the lack of regulation of p80 phosphorylation on collagen, fibronectin, or poly-L-lysine surfaces. We showed that blocking of alpha3beta1 function using inhibitory mAbs, low temperature, or cytochalasin D diminished tyrosine phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase but not p80 phosphorylation. Therefore, under our assay conditions, p80 phosphorylation is regulated by alpha6beta4, while motility via alpha3beta1 causes phosphorylation of focal adhesion kinase. Consistent with a linkage between p80 dephosphorylation and alpha6beta4 anchorage to laminin 5, we found that phosphatase inhibitor sodium vanadate, which blocked the p80 dephosphorylation, prevented the alpha6beta4-dependent cell anchorage to laminin 5 at 4degreesC. In contrast, adhesion at 37 degrees C via alpha3beta1 was unaffected. Furthermore, by in vitro kinase assay, we identified a kinase activity for p80 phosphorylation in suspended HFKs but not in attached cells. The kinase activity, alpha6beta4, and its associated adhesion structure stable anchoring contacts were all cofractionated in the Triton- insoluble cell fraction that lacks alpha3beta1. Thus, regulation of p80 phosphorylation, through the activities of p80 kinase and phosphatase, correlates with alpha6beta4-SAC anchorage to laminin 5 at 4 degrees C in epithelial cells of the skin and intestine. Transmembrane signaling through p80 is an early tyrosine phosphorylation event responsive to and possibly required for anchorage to laminin 5 by HFK and LS123 epithelial cells.