Molecular Simulations Suggest a Force-Dependent Mechanism of Vinculin Activation
Focal adhesions are dynamic constructs at the leading edge of migrating cells, linking them to the extracellular matrix and enabling force sensing and transmission. The lifecycle of a focal adhesion is a highly coordinated process involving spatial and temporal variations of protein composition, interaction, and cellular tension. The assembly of focal adhesions requires the recruitment and activation of vinculin. Vinculin is present in the cytoplasm in an autoinhibited conformation in which its tail is held pincerlike by its head domains, further stabilized by two high-affinity head-tail interfaces. Vinculin has binding sites for talin and F-actin, but effective binding requires vinculin activation to release its head-tail associations. In migrating cells, it has been shown that the locations of vinculin activation coincide with areas of high cellular tension, and that the highest recorded tensions across vinculin are associated with adhesion assembly. Here, we use a structure-based model to investigate vinculin activation by talin modulated by tensile force generated by transient associations with F-actin. We show that vinculin activation may proceed from an intermediate state stabilized by partial talin-vinculin association. There is a low-force regime and a high-force regime where vinculin activation is dominated by two different pathways with distinct responses to force. Specifically, at zero or low forces, vinculin activation requires substantial destabilization of the main head-tail interface, which is rigid and undergoes very limited fluctuations, despite the other being relatively flexible. This pathway is not significantly affected by force; instead, higher forces favor an alternative pathway, which seeks to release the vinculin tail from its pincerlike head domains before destabilizing the head-tail interfaces. This pathway has a force-sensitive activation barrier and is significantly accelerated by force. Experimental data of vinculin during various stages of the focal adhesion lifecycle are consistent with the proposed force-regulated activation pathway.
Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(17)30932-3
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