Focal adhesion kinase-Tyr^407 and -Tyr^397 exhibit antagonistic effects on blood–testis barrier dynamics in the rat

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a nonreceptor protein tyrosine kinase, displays phosphorylation-dependent localization in the seminiferous epithelium of adult rat testes. FAK is an integrated component of the blood–testis barrier (BTB) involved in regulating Sertoli cell adhesion via its effects on the occludin–zonula occludens-1 complex. Herein, we report that p-FAK-Tyr^407 and p-FAK-Tyr^397 display restricted spatiotemporal and almost mutually exclusive localization in the epithelium, affecting BTB dynamics antagonistically, with the former promoting and the latter disrupting the Sertoli cell tight junction–permeability barrier function. Using primary cultured Sertoli cells as an in vitro model that mimics the BTB in vivo both functionally and ultrastructurally, effects of FAK phosphorylation on BTB function were studied by expressing nonphosphorylatable and phosphomimetic mutants, with tyrosine replaced by phenylalanine (F) and glutamate (E), respectively. Compared with WT FAK, Y407E and Y397F mutations each promoted barrier function, and the promoting effect of the Y407E mutant was abolished in the Y397E-Y407E double mutant, demonstrating antagonism between Tyr^407 and Tyr^397. Furthermore, Y407E mutation induced the recruitment of actin-related protein 3 to the Sertoli cell-cell interface, where it became more tightly associated with neuronal Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome protein, promoting actin-related protein 2/3 complex activity. Conversely, Y407F mutation reduced the rate of actin polymerization at the Sertoli cell BTB. In summary, FAK-Tyr^407 phosphorylation promotes BTB integrity by strengthening the actin filament-based cytoskeleton. FAK serves as a bifunctional molecular “switch” to direct the cyclical disassembly and reassembly of the BTB during the epithelial cycle of spermatogenesis, depending on its phosphorylation status, to facilitate the transit of preleptotene spermatocytes across the BTB.