The Journal of cell biology

pH sensing by FAK-His58 regulates focal adhesion remodeling.

PMID 24043700


Intracellular pH (pHi) dynamics regulates diverse cellular processes, including remodeling of focal adhesions. We now report that focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a key regulator of focal adhesion remodeling, is a pH sensor responding to physiological changes in pH. The initial step in FAK activation is autophosphorylation of Tyr397, which increased with higher pHi. We used a genetically encoded biosensor to show increased pH at focal adhesions as they mature during cell spreading. We also show that cells with reduced pHi had attenuated FAK-pY397 as well as defective cell spreading and focal adhesions. Mutagenesis studies indicated FAK-His58 is critical for pH sensing and molecular dynamics simulations suggested a model in which His58 deprotonation drives conformational changes that may modulate accessibility of Tyr397 for autophosphorylation. Expression of FAK-H58A in fibroblasts was sufficient to restore defective autophosphorylation and cell spreading at low pHi. These data are relevant to understanding cancer metastasis, which is dependent on increased pHi and FAK activity.