Stratified squamous epithelia express the alphavbeta5 integrin, but in squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) there is down-regulation of alphavbeta5 and up-regulation of alphavbeta6. To investigate the significance of this finding, we transduced an alphav-negative human SCC line with retroviral vectors encoding alphav integrins. alphavbeta5-expressing cells underwent suspension-induced apoptosis (anoikis), whereas alphav-negative cells and cells expressing alphavbeta6 did not. Resistance to anoikis correlated with PKB/Akt activation in suspension, but not with changes in PTEN or p110alpha PI3 kinase levels. Anoikis was induced in parental and alphavbeta6-expressing cells by inhibiting PI3 kinase. Conversely, activation of Akt or inhibition of caspases in alphavbeta5-expressing cells suppressed anoikis. Caspase inhibition resulted in increased phosphoAkt, placing caspase activation upstream of decreased Akt activation. Anoikis required the cytoplasmic domain of beta5 and was independent of the death receptor pathway. These results suggest that down-regulation of alphavbeta5 through up-regulation of alphavbeta6 may protect SCCs from anoikis by activating an Akt survival signal.