The first tetraspanins were discovered on surface of human leucocytes, but it was rapidly demonstrated that they had a wider tissue expression. Twenty-six molecules display sufficient homology to belong to the same superfamily. Their function is not precisely known, but data coming from biochemical studies or knockout mice suggest that they play a major role in membrane biology. One of their outstanding properties is their ability to form a network of multimolecular complexes, the 'tetraspanin web', in which integrins are included. The structure of these complexes is under investigation, but some of the rules that govern their organization have already been unraveled. The challenge is to determine how the organization of the 'tetraspanin web' modifies the function of its constitutive molecules and consequently influences cellular behaviour. The implications may be considerable for the understanding of basic cellular processes such as migration and also of diseases related to loss or mutation of a single tetraspanin.
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