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We have investigated the dynamic behavior of actin in fibroblast lamellipodia using photoactivation of fluorescence. Activated regions of caged resorufin (CR)-labeled actin in lamellipodia of IMR 90 and MC7 3T3 fibroblasts were observed to move centripetally over time. Thus in these cells, actin filaments move centripetally relative to the substrate. Rates were characteristic for each cell type; 0.66 +/- 0.27 microns/min in IMR 90 and 0.36 +/- 0.16 microns/min in MC7 3T3 cells. In neither case was there any correlation between the rate of actin movement and the rate of lamellipodial protrusion. The half-life of the activated CR-actin filaments was approximately 1 min in IMR 90 lamellipodia, and approximately 3 min in MC7 3T3 lamellipodia. Thus continuous filament turnover accompanies centripetal movement. In both cell types, the length of time required for a section of the actin meshwork to traverse the lamellipodium was several times longer than the filament half-life. The dynamic behavior of the dorsal surface of the cell was also observed by tracking lectin-coated beads on the surface and phase-dense features within lamellipodia of MC7 3T3 cells. The movement of these dorsal features occurred at rates approximately three times faster than the rate of movement of the underlying bulk actin cytoskeleton, even when measured in the same individual cells. Thus the transport of these dorsal features must occur by some mechanism other than simple attachment to the moving bulk actin cytoskeleton.