Background & Aims: Purified intestinal epithelial cells die of detachment-induced apoptosis due to loss of cell anchorage during isolation. Anchorage-dependent cells form focal adhesions, sites of enhanced cell-matrix attachment that confer survival signals. Focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a component of the focal adhesion signaling complex, transduces these antiapoptotic signals. In this report, the molecular events leading to cleavage of FAK by caspases during apoptosis and its functional implications are defined. Methods: Cytosolic extracts of human intestinal epithelial cells undergoing detachment-induced apoptosis were analyzed by Western blotting, immunoprecipitation, and kinase assay. Results: FAK is cleaved by the ordered proteolytic activity of 2 different members of the caspase-3 family. The first cleavage is mediated by caspase-3, generating a 94/92-kilodalton-terminal fragment, which is processed by caspase-6 to an 84-kilodalton fragment. After apoptosis is initiated, the level of FAK phosphorylation is rapidly decreased, and the phosphorylation pattern of FAK-associated proteins is dramatically modified, showing significant yet divergent changes in signal transduction. Conclusions: Cleavage of FAK during apoptosis of normal human cells is an example of the sequential, highly regulated, and coordinate action of caspases that not only dismantle a cell by proteolysis, but also alter the cell's signaling machinery.
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