Claudia T. Mierke, Tony Fischer, Stefanie Puder, Tom Kunschmann, Birga Soetje & Wolfgang H. Ziegler
The focal adhesion kinase (FAK) regulates the dynamics of integrin-based cell adhesions important for motility. FAK’s activity regulation is involved in stress-sensing and focal-adhesion turnover. The effect of FAK on 3D migration and cellular mechanics is unclear. We analyzed FAK knock-out mouse embryonic fibroblasts and cells expressing a kinase-dead FAK mutant, R454-FAK, in comparison to FAK wild-type cells. FAK knock-out and FAKR454/R454 cells invade dense 3D matrices less efficiently. These results are supported by FAK knock-down in wild-type fibroblasts and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells showing reduced invasiveness. Pharmacological interventions indicate that in 3D matrices, cells deficient in FAK or kinase-activity behave similarly to wild-type cells treated with inhibitors of Src-activity or actomyosin-contractility. Using magnetic tweezers experiments, FAKR454/R454 cells are shown to be softer and exhibit impaired adhesion to fibronectin and collagen, which is consistent with their reduced 3D invasiveness. In line with this, FAKR454/R454 cells cannot contract the matrix in contrast to FAK wild-type cells. Finally, our findings demonstrate that active FAK facilitates 3D matrix invasion through increased cellular stiffness and transmission of actomyosin-dependent contractile force in dense 3D extracellular matrices.