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Concept: Focal adhesion


BACKGROUND: Cells sense the extracellular environment using adhesion receptors (integrins) linked to the intracellular actin cytoskeleton through a complex network of regulatory proteins that, all together, form focal adhesions (FAs). The molecular basis of how these sensing units are regulated, how they are implicated in transducing mechanical stimuli, and how this leads to a spatiotemporal coordination of FAs is unclear. RESULTS: Here we show that vinculin, through its links to the talin-integrin complex and F-actin, regulates the transmission of mechanical signals from the extracellular matrix to the actomyosin machinery. We demonstrate that the vinculin interaction with the talin-integrin complex drives the recruitment and release of core FA components. The activation state of vinculin is itself regulated by force, as underscored by our observation that vinculin localization to FAs is dependent on actomyosin contraction. Using a variety of vinculin mutants, we establish which components of the cell-matrix adhesion network are coordinated through direct and indirect associations with vinculin. Moreover, using cyclic stretching, we demonstrate that vinculin plays a key role in the transmission of extracellular mechanical stimuli leading to the reorganization of cell polarity. Of particular importance is the actin-binding tail region of vinculin, without which the cell’s ability to repolarize in response to cyclic stretching is perturbed. CONCLUSIONS: Overall our data promote a model whereby vinculin controls the transmission of intracellular and extracellular mechanical cues that are important for the spatiotemporal assembly, disassembly, and reorganization of FAs to coordinate polarized cell motility.

Concepts: Protein, Cell membrane, Cell biology, Actin, Cell signaling, Cytoskeleton, Focal adhesion, Vinculin


In LEOPARD Syndrome (LS) patients, mutations in the protein tyrosine phosphatase Shp2 cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The pro-hypertrophic effects of mutant Shp2 are mediated downstream by hyperactivation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). Our goal was to further define the signaling cascade that is essential for the underlying pathomechanism, thus expanding the list of potential future therapeutic targets. Using cultured neonatal rat cardiomyocytes (NRCM) with adenoviral gene delivery and pharmacological inhibitors, we found that hypertrophy induced by a particularly aggressive LS mutation in Shp2 depends on hyperactivation of Akt and focal adhesion kinase (FAK) as well as mTOR. Dissecting domain-specific functions of Shp2 using double and truncation mutants, we determined that the hypertrophic effects of mutant Shp2 depend on the two SH2 domains and on an intact catalytic center. The latter finding prompted us to test the efficacy of a Shp2 inhibitor targeted directly at the catalytic pocket. This compound, PHPS1, effectively prevented mutant Shp2-induced hypertrophy. In summary, we identified three novel targets for pharmacological therapy of LS-associated cardiac hypertrophy. Of particular importance is the finding that intervention directly at the mutant Shp2 protein is effective, since this would facilitate custom-tailored therapeutic approaches for patients carrying LS mutations in Shp2.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Enzyme, Mutant, Tyrosine kinase, Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Focal adhesion, PTEN, EC 3.1.3


The mechanosensing ability of lymphocytes regulates their activation in response to antigen stimulation, but the underlying mechanism remains unexplored. Here, we report that B cell mechanosensing-governed activation requires BCR signaling molecules. PMA-induced activation of PKCβ can bypass the Btk and PLC-γ2 signaling molecules that are usually required for B cells to discriminate substrate stiffness. Instead, PKCβ-dependent activation of FAK is required, leading to FAK-mediated potentiation of B cell spreading and adhesion responses. FAK inactivation or deficiency impaired B cell discrimination of substrate stiffness. Conversely, adhesion molecules greatly enhanced this capability of B cells. Lastly, B cells derived from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients exhibited an altered BCR response to substrate stiffness in comparison with healthy controls. These results provide a molecular explanation of how initiation of B cell activation discriminates substrate stiffness through a PKCβ-mediated FAK activation dependent manner.

Concepts: Lymphocyte, Protein, Enzyme, B cell, Rheumatoid arthritis, T cell, Focal adhesion, Discrimination


The geometry of the cleavage furrow during mitosis is often asymmetric in vivo and plays a critical role in stem cell differentiation and the relative positioning of daughter cells during development. Early observations of adhesive cell lines revealed asymmetry in the shape of the cleavage furrow, where the bottom (i.e., substrate attached side) of the cleavage furrow ingressed less than the top (i.e., unattached side). This data suggested substrate attachment could be regulating furrow ingression. Here we report a population of mitotic focal adhesions (FAs) controls the symmetry of the cleavage furrow. In single HeLa cells, stronger adhesion to the substrate directed less ingression from the bottom of the cell through a pathway including paxillin, focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and vinculin. Cell-cell contacts also direct ingression of the cleavage furrow in coordination with FAs in epithelial cells-MDCK-within monolayers and polarized cysts. In addition, mitotic FAs established 3D orientation of the mitotic spindle and the relative positioning of mother and daughter centrosomes. Therefore, our data reveals mitotic FAs as a key link between mitotic cell shape and spindle orientation, and may have important implications in our understanding stem cell homeostasis and tumorigenesis.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Cell division, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Cell culture, Mitosis, Focal adhesion, Centrosome


Securing robust cell adhesion between cells and biomaterials is one of key considerations for tissue engineering. However, the cell adhesion investigation by the biophysical effects such as topography or rigidity of substrates has only been recently reported. In this study, we examined the spatial property of focal adhesions by changing the height of micropatterns in two kinds of microtopography (grid and post) and the stiffness of the substrates. We found that the focal adhesion localization is highly regulated by topographical variation (height) of gird micropattens but not the rigidity of substrates or the function of actin cytoskeleton, although the latters strongly influence the focal adhesion size or area. In detail, the change of the height of the grid micropatterns results in the switching of focal adhesion sites; as the height increases, the localization of focal adhesion is switched from top to bottom areas. This study demonstrates that the localization of focal adhesion on well-defined micropatterned substrates is critically determined by the topographical variation in the micropatterns.

Concepts: Protein, Eukaryote, Cell biology, Actin, Cytoskeleton, Focal adhesion, Vinculin, Grid computing


Single-agent immunotherapy has achieved limited clinical benefit to date in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This may be a result of the presence of a uniquely immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). Critical obstacles to immunotherapy in PDAC tumors include a high number of tumor-associated immunosuppressive cells and a uniquely desmoplastic stroma that functions as a barrier to T cell infiltration. We identified hyperactivated focal adhesion kinase (FAK) activity in neoplastic PDAC cells as an important regulator of the fibrotic and immunosuppressive TME. We found that FAK activity was elevated in human PDAC tissues and correlated with high levels of fibrosis and poor CD8(+) cytotoxic T cell infiltration. Single-agent FAK inhibition using the selective FAK inhibitor VS-4718 substantially limited tumor progression, resulting in a doubling of survival in the p48-Cre;LSL-Kras(G12D);Trp53(flox/+) (KPC) mouse model of human PDAC. This delay in tumor progression was associated with markedly reduced tumor fibrosis and decreased numbers of tumor-infiltrating immunosuppressive cells. We also found that FAK inhibition rendered the previously unresponsive KPC mouse model responsive to T cell immunotherapy and PD-1 antagonists. These data suggest that FAK inhibition increases immune surveillance by overcoming the fibrotic and immunosuppressive PDAC TME and renders tumors responsive to immunotherapy.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Enzyme, Cell biology, Benign tumor, Tumor, Neoplasm, Focal adhesion


High-grade gliomas (HGG) are a devastating group of cancers, and represent the leading cause of brain tumour-related death in both children and adults. Therapies aimed at mechanisms intrinsic to glioma cells have translated to only limited success; effective therapeutic strategies will need also to target elements of the tumour microenvironment that promote glioma progression. Neuronal activity promotes the growth of a range of molecularly and clinically distinct HGG types, including adult and paediatric glioblastoma (GBM), anaplastic oligodendroglioma, and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). An important mechanism that mediates this neural regulation of brain cancer is activity-dependent cleavage and secretion of the synaptic adhesion molecule neuroligin-3 (NLGN3), which promotes glioma proliferation through the PI3K-mTOR pathway. However, the necessity of NLGN3 for glioma growth, the proteolytic mechanism of NLGN3 secretion, and the further molecular consequences of NLGN3 secretion in glioma cells remain unknown. Here we show that HGG growth depends on microenvironmental NLGN3, identify signalling cascades downstream of NLGN3 binding in glioma, and determine a therapeutically targetable mechanism of secretion. Patient-derived orthotopic xenografts of paediatric GBM, DIPG and adult GBM fail to grow in Nlgn3 knockout mice. NLGN3 stimulates several oncogenic pathways, such as early focal adhesion kinase activation upstream of PI3K-mTOR, and induces transcriptional changes that include upregulation of several synapse-related genes in glioma cells. NLGN3 is cleaved from both neurons and oligodendrocyte precursor cells via the ADAM10 sheddase. ADAM10 inhibitors prevent the release of NLGN3 into the tumour microenvironment and robustly block HGG xenograft growth. This work defines a promising strategy for targeting NLGN3 secretion, which could prove transformative for HGG therapy.

Concepts: Nervous system, Cancer, Glioma, Brain tumor, Astrocytoma, Temozolomide, Focal adhesion, Oligodendroglioma


Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) has known signaling roles in cytoplasmic adhesion structures, but was recently shown to act as a transcriptional regulator in the nucleus. In this issue of Structure, Cardoso et al. (2016) report that mechanical forces translocate FAK to the nucleus of cardiomyocytes, and provide structural insights into how FAK interacts with the MEF2 transcription factor to control cardiac hypertrophy.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Structure, Transcription factor, RNA polymerase, Focal adhesion


Loss of LKB1 activity is prevalent in KRAS mutant lung adenocarcinoma and promotes aggressive and treatment-resistant tumors. Previous studies have shown that LKB1 is a negative regulator of the focal adhesion kinase (FAK), but in vivo studies testing the efficacy of FAK inhibition in LKB1 mutant cancers are lacking. Here, we took a pharmacologic approach to show that FAK inhibition is an effective early-treatment strategy for this high-risk molecular subtype. We established a lenti-Cre-induced Kras and Lkb1 mutant genetically engineered mouse model (KLLenti) that develops 100% lung adenocarcinoma and showed that high spatiotemporal FAK activation occurs in collective invasive cells that are surrounded by high levels of collagen. Modeling invasion in 3D, loss of Lkb1, but not p53, was sufficient to drive collective invasion and collagen alignment that was highly sensitive to FAK inhibition. Treatment of early, stage-matched KLLenti tumors with FAK inhibitor monotherapy resulted in a striking effect on tumor progression, invasion, and tumor-associated collagen. Chronic treatment extended survival and impeded local lymph node spread. Lastly, we identified focally upregulated FAK and collagen-associated collective invasion in KRAS and LKB1 comutated human lung adenocarcinoma patients. Our results suggest that patients with LKB1 mutant tumors should be stratified for early treatment with FAK inhibitors.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Effectiveness, In vivo, Adenocarcinoma, Enzyme inhibitor, Inhibitor, Focal adhesion


Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is a nonreceptor tyrosine kinase involved in development and human disease, including cancer. It is currently thought that the four-point one, ezrin, radixin, moesin (FERM)-kinase domain linker, which contains autophosphorylation site tyrosine (Y) 397, is not required for in vivo FAK function until late midgestation. Here, we directly tested this hypothesis by generating mice with FAK Y397-to-phenylalanine (F) mutations in the germline. We found that Y397F embryos exhibited reduced mesodermal fibronectin (FN) and osteopontin expression and died during mesoderm development akin to FAK kinase-dead mice. We identified myosin-1E (MYO1E), an actin-dependent molecular motor, to interact directly with the FAK FERM-kinase linker and induce FAK kinase activity and Y397 phosphorylation. Active FAK in turn accumulated in the nucleus where it led to the expression of osteopontin and other FN-type matrix in both mouse embryonic fibroblasts and human melanoma. Our data support a model in which FAK Y397 autophosphorylation is required for FAK function in vivo and is positively regulated by MYO1E.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Signal transduction, Developmental biology, Protein kinase, Tyrosine kinase, Focal adhesion, PTK2