Plasma Membrane-Associated pY397FAK Is a Marker of Cytotrophoblast Invasion in Vivo and in Vitro
AbstractDuring human pregnancy specialized placental cells of fetal origin, termed cytotrophoblasts, invade the uterus and its blood vessels. This tumor-like process anchors the conceptus to the mother and diverts the flow of uterine blood to the placenta. Previously, we showed that the expression of molecules with important functional roles, including a number of extracellular matrix integrin receptors, is precisely modulated during cytotrophoblast invasion in situ . Here we exploited this observation to study the role of the focal adhesion kinase (FAK), which transduces signals from the extracellular matrix and recruits additional signaling proteins to focal adhesions. Immunolocalization studies on tissue sections showed that FAK is expressed by cytotrophoblasts in all stages of differentiation. Because extracellular matrix-induced integrin clustering results in FAK (auto)phosphorylation on tyrosine 397 (Y397FAK), we also localized this form of the molecule. Immunolocalization experiments detected Y397FAK in a subset of cytotrophoblasts near the surface of the uterine wall. To assess the functional relevance of this observation, we used an adenovirus strategy to inhibit cytotrophoblast expression of FAK as the cells differentiated along the invasive pathway in vitro . Compared to control cells transduced with a wild-type virus, cytotrophoblasts that expressed antisense FAK exhibited a striking reduction in their ability to invade an extracellular matrix substrate. When cytotrophoblast differentiation was compromised (hypoxia in vitro , preeclampsia in vivo ), Y397FAK levels associated with the plasma membrane were strikingly lower, although total FAK levels did not change. Together our results suggest that (auto)phosphorylation of Y397 on FAK is a critical component of the signaling pathway that mediates cytotrophoblast migration/invasion.