The major laminin-binding integrin of skeletal, smooth, and heart muscle is alpha7beta1-integrin, which is structurally related to alpha6beta1. It occurs in three cytoplasmic splice variants (alpha7A, -B, and -C) and two extracellular forms (X1 and X2) which are developmentally regulated and differentially expressed in skeletal muscle. Previously, we have shown that ectopic expression of the alpha7beta-integrin splice variant in nonmotile HEK293 cells specifically induced cell locomotion on laminin-1 but not on fibronectin. To investigate the specificity and the mechanism of the alpha7-mediated cell motility, we expressed the three alpha7-chain cytoplasmic splice variants, as well as alpha6A- and alpha6B-integrin subunits in HEK293 cells. Here we show that all three alpha7 splice variants (containing the X2 domain), as well as alpha6A and alpha6B, promote cell attachment and stimulate cell motility on laminin-1 and its E8 fragment. Deletion of the cytoplasmic domain (excluding the GFFKR consensus sequence) from alpha7B resulted in a loss of the motility-enhancing effect. On laminin-2/4 (merosin), the predominant isoform in mature skeletal muscle, only alpha7-expressing cells showed enhanced motility, whereas cells transfected with alpha6A and alpha6B neither attached nor migrated on laminin-2. Adhesion of alpha7-expressing cells to both laminin-1 and laminin-2 was specifically inhibited by a new monoclonal antibody (6A11) specific for alpha7. Expression of the two extracellular splice variants alpha7X1 and alpha7X2 in HEK293 cells conferred different motilities on laminin isoforms: Whereas alpha7X2B promoted cell migration on both laminin-1 and laminin-2, alpha7X1B supported motility only on laminin-2 and not on laminin-1, although both X1 and X2 splice variants revealed similar adhesion rates to laminin-1 and -2. Fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis revealed a dramatic reduction of surface expression of alpha6-integrin subunits after alpha7A or -B transfection; also, surface expression of alpha1-, alpha3-, and alpha5-integrins was significantly reduced. These results demonstrate selective responses of alpha6- and alpha7-integrins and of the alpha7 splice variants to laminin-1 and -2 and indicate differential roles in laminin-controlled cell adhesion and migration. Copyright 2000 Academic Press.