Focal adhesion kinase and actin regulatory/binding proteins that modulate F-actin organization at the tissue barrier: Lesson from the testis

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Focal adhesion kinase (FAK), as its name implied, is an important mediator of integrin-based signaling function in mammalian cells at the focal adhesion complex (FAC, also known as focal contact) at the cell-extracellular matrix interface. FAK is intimately related to cell movement, such as in macrophages, fibroblasts and also tumor cells. In the testis, however, FAK and two of its phosphorylated forms, p-FAK-Tyr^407 and -Tyr^397, are not found at the FAC since there is no ultrastructure analogous or similar to FAC in the mammalian testis vs. other epithelia. Instead, FAK and its two phosphorylated forms are detected along the seminiferous epithelium in the rat testis at the cell-cell interface in a testis-specific adherens junction (AJ) known as the ectoplasmic specialization (ES). ES is an F-actin-rich ultrastructure in which bundles of actin filaments are sandwiched in-between plasma membrane and cisternae of endoplasmic reticulum not found in other mammalian epithelial/endothelial cells. The ES is restricted to the interface of Sertoli cells and spermatids (step 8–19) known as the apical ES, and to the Sertoli cell-cell interface known as the basal ES. Interestingly, the basal ES is also an integrated component of the blood-testis barrier (BTB), coexisting with tight junction (TJ) and gap junction (GJ), and it is conceivable that actin filament bundles at the ES undergo extensive organization, converting from their “bundled” to “de-bundled/branching” configuration to facilitate transport of germ cells across the epithelium and at the BTB during the epithelial cycle. A recent report (Lie et al. PNAS 109:12562–12567, 2012) has demonstrated that the stage-specific and spatiotemporal expression of p-FAK-Tyr^407 and -Tyr^397 are crucial to the regulation of these events via their stage-specific and spatiotemporal expression during the epithelial cycle mediated by their effects on the organization of the actin filament bundles at the ES, involving actin binding/regulatory proteins. In this Commentary, we will critically evaluate these findings in light of other recent reports in the field. While these ideas are based on studies in the BTB in the rat testis, this information should be applicable and helpful to investigators studying other tissue barriers.