Syndecan-1 is a cell surface proteoglycan containing a highly conserved transmembrane and cytoplasmic domain, and an extracellular domain bearing heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycans. Through these domains, syndecan-1 is proposed to have roles in growth factor action, extracellular matrix adhesion, and cytoskeletal organization that controls cell morphology. To study the role of syndecan-1 in cell adhesion and cytoskeleton reorganization, mouse syndecan-1 cDNA was transfected into human Raji cells, a lymphoblastoid cell line that grows as suspended cells and exhibits little or no endogenous cell surface heparan sulfate. High expressing transfectants (Raji-Sl cells) bind to and spread on immobilized thrombospondin or fibronectin, which are ligands for the heparan sulfate chains of the proteoglycan. This binding and spreading as not dependent on the cytoplasmic domain of the core protein, is mutants expressing core proteins with cytoplasmic deletions maintain the ability to spread. The spreading is mediated through engagement of the syndecan-1 core protein, as the Raji-S 1 cells also bind to and spread on immobilized mAb 281.2, an antibody specific for the ectodomain of the syndecan-1 core protein. Spreading on the antibody is independent of the heparan sulfate glycosaminoglycan chains and can be inhibited by competition with soluble mAb 281.2. The spreading can be inhibited by treatment with cytochalasin D or colchicine. These data suggest that the core protein of syndecan-1 mediates spreading through the formation of a multimolecular signaling complex at the cell surface that signals cytoskeleton reorganization. This complex may form via intramembrane or extracellular interactions with the syndecan core protein.

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