Matrix remodeling, critical to embryonic morphogenesis and wound healing, is dependent on the expression of matrix components, their receptors, and matrix proteases. The collagen gel assay has provided an effective model for the examination of the functional role(s) of each of these groups of molecules in matrix remodeling. Previous investigations have indicated that collagen gel contraction involves the β1 integrin family of matrix receptors and is stimulated by several growth factors, including TGF-β, PDGF, and angiotensin II. In particular, collagen gel remodeling by human cells involves the α2β1 and, to a lesser extent the α1β1 integrin complexes. The present studies were undertaken to determine the role of the α1 integrin chain, a collagen/laminin receptor, in collagen gel contration by rodent and avian fibroblasts. A high degree of correlation was found between the expression of the α1β1 integrin complex and the relative ability of cells to contract collagen gels. Further studies using antibodies and antisense oligonucleotides against the α1 integrin indicated a significant role for this integrin chain in contraction of collagen gels by rat cardiac fibroblasts. In addition, antibodies to the α1 integrin chain inhibited migration of these fibroblasts on a collagen substratum, suggesting that at least one role of this integrin is in migration of cells in collagen gels. These results indicate that the α1β integrin complex plays a significant role in cellular interactions with interstital collagen that are involved in matrix remodeling such as is seen during morphogenesis and wound healing. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.