The survival of endothelial cells is dependent on interactions between the matrix and integrins mediated through focal adhesions. Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is thought to play a key role in maintaining focal adhesion function and cell survival, whereas caspase-mediated FAK proteolysis is implicated in focal adhesion disassembly during apoptosis. We examined the relationship between changes in FAK phosphorylation and proteolysis during apoptosis of primary porcine aortic endothelial cells (PAEC) induced by staurosporine, a widely used apoptogenic agent in diverse cell types. Staurosporine-induced PAEC apoptosis was detected after 1h and was preceded by disruption and loss of FAK localization to focal adhesions within a few minutes, whereas staurosporine-induced cleavage of FAK occurred only after 8—24h. Staurosporine induced a very rapid dephosphorylation of FAK at Tyr861 and Tyr397 and caused dissociation of phosphorylated FAK from focal adhesions as early as 30s. The effect of staurosporine was very potent with striking inhibition of Tyr861 and Tyr397 phosphorylation and focal adhesion disruption occurring in the range 10—100nM. Selective inhibition of a known target of staurosporine, protein kinase C, using GF109203X, and of phosphoinositide 3′-kinase using wortmannin, did not reduce FAK tyrosine phosphorylation at Tyr861 and Tyr397, or cause disruption of focal adhesions. Cycloheximide, the protein synthesis inhibitor, induced PAEC apoptosis more slowly than staurosporine, but did not induce FAK dephosphorylation or rapid focal adhesion disruption, and instead caused a slower loss of focal adhesions and a marked increase in FAK proteolysis. These studies show that FAK dephosphorylation and focal adhesion disassembly are very early events mediating the onset of staurosporine-induced endothelial cell apoptosis and are dissociated from FAK proteolysis. Cycloheximide induces apoptosis through a pathway involving FAK proteolysis without dephosphorylation.

Abbreviations used: Bcl-2, B-cell lymphocytic leukaemia proto-oncogene 2; DAPI, 4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole; DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; FAK, focal adhesion kinase; HUVEC, human umbilical-vein endothelial cells; PAEC, porcine aortic endothelial cells; PI 3-kinase, phosphoinositide 3′-kinase; PKC, protein kinase C; SH2 domain, Src homology domain; TUNEL, terminal transferase deoxytidyl uridine end labelling.

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