Background: Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) functions in cell migration and signaling through activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling cascade. Neuronal function of FAK has been suggested to control axonal branching; however, the underlying mechanism in this process is not clear.
Results: We have generated mutants for the Drosophila FAK gene, Fak56. Null Fak56 mutants display overgrowth of larval neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). Localization of phospho-FAK and rescue experiments suggest that Fak56 is required in presynapses to restrict NMJ growth. Genetic analyses imply that FAK mediates the signaling pathway of the integrin alphaPS3betanu heterodimer and functions redundantly with Src. At NMJs, Fak56 downregulates ERK activity, as shown by diphospho-ERK accumulation in Fak56 mutants, and suppression of Fak56 mutant NMJ phenotypes by reducing ERK activity.
Conclusion: We conclude that Fak56 is required to restrict NMJ growth during NMJ development. Fak56 mediates an extracellular signal through the integrin receptor. Unlike its conventional role in activating MAPK/ERK, Fak56 suppresses ERK activation in this process. These results suggest that Fak56 mediates a specific neuronal signaling pathway distinct from that in other cellular processes.