Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is considered intimately involved in cancer progression. Our previous research has demonstrated that overexpression of FAK is an early and frequent event in squamous cell carcinomas of the supraglottic larynx, and it is associated with the presence of metastases in cervical lymph nodes. The purpose of this study was to examine the functional role of FAK in the progression of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). To this end, expression of FAK-related nonkinase (FRNK) or small interfering RNA (siRNA) against FAK was used to disrupt the FAK-induced signal transduction pathways in the HNSCC-derived SCC40 and SCC38 cell lines. Similar phenotypic effects were observed with the two methodological approaches in both cell lines. Decreased cell attachment, motility and invasion were induced by FRNK and FAK siRNA, whereas cell proliferation was not impaired. In addition, increased cell invasion was observed upon FAK overexpression in SCC cells. FRNK expression resulted in a downregulation of MMP-2 and MMP-9 expression. Interestingly, MMP-2 overexpression in FRNK-expressing cells rescued FRNK inhibition of cell invasion. This is the first demonstration of a direct rescue of impaired cell invasion by the re-expression of MMP-2 in a tumour cell type with decreased expression of functional FAK. Collectively, these data reported here support the conclusion that FAK enhances invasion of HNSCC by promoting both increased cell motility and MMP-2 production, thus providing new insights into possible therapeutic intervention strategies.