The integrin alpha 6 beta 1 is a prominent laminin receptor used by many cell types. In the present work, we isolate clones and determine the primary sequence of the chick integrin alpha 6 subunit. We show that alpha 6 beta 1 is a prominent integrin expressed by cells in the developing chick retina. Between embryonic days 6 and 12, both retinal ganglion cells and other retinal neurons lose selected integrin functions, including the ability to attach and extend neurites on laminin. In retinal ganglion cells, we show that this is correlated with a dramatic decrease in alpha 6 mRNA and protein, suggesting that changes in gene expression account for the developmental regulation of the interactions of these neurons with laminin. In other retinal neurons the expression of alpha 6 mRNA and protein remains high while function is lost, suggesting that the function of the alpha 6 beta 1 heterodimer in these cells is regulated by posttranslational mechanisms.