Focal adhesions (FAs) are multi-protein complexes that connect the actin cytoskeleton to the extracellular matrix, via integrin receptors. The growth, stability and adhesive functionality of these structures are tightly regulated by mechanical stress, yet, despite the extensive characterization of the integrin adhesome, the detailed molecular mechanisms underlying FA mechanosensitivity are still unclear. Besides talin, another key candidate for regulating FA-associated mechanosensing, is vinculin, a prominent FA component, which possesses either closed (“auto-inhibited”) or open (“active”) conformation. A direct experimental demonstration, however, of the conformational transition between the two states is still absent. In this study, we combined multiple structural and biological approaches to probe the transition from the auto-inhibited to the active conformation, and determine its effects on FA structure and dynamics. We further show that the transition from a closed to an open conformation requires two sequential steps that can differentially regulate FA growth and stability.
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