We have examined the distribution in Xenopus embryos of beta 1 subunits of integrin, as recognized by cross-reactive antibodies against the avian integrin beta 1 subunit. These antibodies recognize a doublet of bands of approximately 120 kD in Xenopus embryos. The distribution pattern of these integrin cell surface receptors was compared with that of two possible ligands, fibronectin and laminin, in the extracellular matrix during the time of neural crest cell migration. Integrin immunoreactivity in the early neurula was observed lightly outlining somite and epidermal cells and the notochord. The integrin immunostaining increased with developmental age and was observed on most cell types in the embryo but was particularly notable in the intersomitic clefts through which motoraxons grow. The immunoreactivity in this region was not, however, wholly on the axon surfaces, since intersomitic integrin remained detectable in embryos in which the neural tube had been ablated. Fibronectin and laminin were more extensively distributed than integrin at all stages examined. Immunoreactivity for both was observed around the neural tube, notochord, somites, epidermis, dorsal mesentery, and lateral plate mesoderm. The distribution of laminin and fibronectin around the somites was particularly interesting since it was non-uniform and similar to that of integrin. Strongest staining was observed in the intersomitic clefts, and weakest staining was observed on the medial surface of the somites, which faces the neural tube and notochord. The major differences in distribution pattern between the fibronectin and laminin immunoreactivities were that only fibronectin was detected in the mesenchyme of the dorsal fin. Our results demonstrate that a molecule homologous to avian integrin is present in Xenopus embryos during neural crest cell migration and motoraxon outgrowth. Its presence in the intersomitic clefts and on the surface of many embryonic cell types together with the abundant distribution of its ligands are consistent with a potentially important developmental function in neurite outgrowth and/or muscle development.