Rayan Mohammad Naser, a Ph.D. candidate under the supervision of Professor Stefan Arold successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis "The Role of the FAT Domain in Controlling Localization and Activation of the Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK)"
Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) controls the assembly of focal adhesion sites and transduces signals from several membrane receptors. Controlled activation and localization of FAK functionally links cell adhesion, migration and survival. FAK is overexpressed in many cancer types, promoting tumor invasiveness and metastasis. The molecular mechanisms allowing FAK to fulfil numerous different functions and act as versatile 'nanomachines' are poorly understood. We have previously revealed that ligand-induced dimerization along with intramolecular interactions control FAK activation and localization where the C-terminal focal adhesion targeting (FAT) domain is strictly involved. In this study, we combine NMR with X-ray crystallography, as well as biophysical and computational methods to understand the molecular mechanisms that link the large-scale dynamics and intramolecular and intermolecular interactions of FAT into FAK's capacity to integrate various stimuli into a site-specific function. Our results reveal FAT-mediated dynamical interplays between binding of known and newly discovered FAT ligands, and multimerization and autoactivation of FAK. Additionally, we investigate the impact of neuronal alternative splicing on FAT dynamics and interactions. Collectively, our results elucidate FAT's role in allosterically controlling various FAK functions, and might inspire allosteric protein-protein interaction inhibitors against FAK-dependent cancer cell proliferation.