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The alpha 6 beta 1 integrin is expressed on the macrophage surface in an inactive state and requires cellular activation with PMA or cytokines to function as a laminin receptor (Shaw, L. M., J. M. Messier, and A. M. Mercurio. 1990. J. Cell Biol. 110:2167-2174). In the present study, the role of the alpha 6 subunit cytoplasmic domain in alpha 6 beta 1 integrin activation was examined. The use of P388D1 cells, an alpha 6-integrin deficient macrophage cell line, facilitated this analysis because expression of either the alpha 6A or alpha 6B subunit cDNAs restores their activation responsive laminin adhesion (Shaw, L. S., M. Lotz, and A. M. Mercurio. 1993. J. Biol. Chem. 268:11401-11408). A truncated alpha 6 cDNA, alpha 6-delta CYT, was constructed in which the human cytoplasmic domain sequence was deleted after the GFFKR pentapeptide. Expression of this cDNA in P388D1 cells resulted in the surface expression of a chimeric alpha 6-delta CYT beta 1 integrin that was unable to mediate laminin adhesion or increase this adhesion in response to PMA under normal conditions, i.e., in medium that contained physiological concentrations of Ca++ and Mg++. The alpha 6A-delta CYT transfectants adhered to laminin, however, when Ca++/Mg++ was replaced with 150 microM Mn++. We also assessed the role of serine phosphorylation in the regulation of alpha 6A beta 1 integrin function by site-directed mutagenesis of the two serine residues present in the alpha 6A cytoplasmic domain because this domain is phosphorylated on serine residues in response to stimuli that activate the laminin receptor function of alpha 6 A beta 1. Point mutations were introduced in the alpha 6A cDNA that changed either serine residue #1064 (M1) or serine residue #1071 (M2) to alanine residues. In addition, a double mutant (M3) was constructed in which both serine residues were changed to alanine residues. P388D1 transfectants which expressed these serine mutations adhered to laminin in response to PMA to the same extent as cells transfected with wild-type alpha 6A cDNA. These findings provide evidence for a novel mode of integrin regulation that is distinct from that reported for other regulated integrins (O'Toole, T. E., D. Mandelman, J. Forsyth, S. J. Shattil, E. F. Plow, and M. H. Ginsberg. 1991. Science (Wash. DC). 254:845-847. Hibbs, M. L., H. Xu, S. A. Stacker, and T. A. Springer. 1991. Science (Wash. DC). 251:1611-1613), and they demonstrate that serine phosphorylation of the alpha 6A cytoplasmic domain is not involved in this regulation.