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1.  Releasing the brakes while hanging on 
Bioarchitecture  2012;2(1):11-14.
Actin polymerization plays a major role in many cellular processes, including cell motility, vesicle trafficking, and pathogen propulsion. The transformation of the (protrusive) polymerization forces into directed motion requires that the growing filaments are positioned next to the surface. This is achieved by localization of surface actin nucleators (WASP), which then activate Arp2/3 complex to form new actin branches. Yet, the same surface-bound WASP molecule which initiates the nucleation of new actin branches, also inherently prevents the translation of the polymerization forces into motion, essentially because the WASP molecule has to be in contact with the network during the formation of the new branch. In our recent paper we show that cortactin relaxes this internal inhibition by enhancing the release of WASP-VCA molecule from the new branching site after nucleation is initiated. We show that this enhanced release has two major effects; it increases the turnover rate of branching per WASP molecule, and it decreases the friction-like force caused by the binding of the moving surface with respect to the growing actin network.
PMCID: PMC3383711  PMID: 22754622
Arp2/3 complex; WASP-VCA; actin-based motility; cortactin; friction-like force; propulsion velocity
2.  Arp2/3 Branched Actin Network Mediates Filopodia-Like Bundles Formation In Vitro 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(9):e3297.
During cellular migration, regulated actin assembly takes place at the cell leading edge, with continuous disassembly deeper in the cell interior. Actin polymerization at the plasma membrane results in the extension of cellular protrusions in the form of lamellipodia and filopodia. To understand how cells regulate the transformation of lamellipodia into filopodia, and to determine the major factors that control their transition, we studied actin self-assembly in the presence of Arp2/3 complex, WASp-VCA and fascin, the major proteins participating in the assembly of lamellipodia and filopodia. We show that in the early stages of actin polymerization fascin is passive while Arp2/3 mediates the formation of dense and highly branched aster-like networks of actin. Once filaments in the periphery of an aster get long enough, fascin becomes active, linking the filaments into bundles which emanate radially from the aster's surface, resulting in the formation of star-like structures. We show that the number of bundles nucleated per star, as well as their thickness and length, is controlled by the initial concentration of Arp2/3 complex ([Arp2/3]). Specifically, we tested several values of [Arp2/3] and found that for given initial concentrations of actin and fascin, the number of bundles per star, as well as their length and thickness are larger when [Arp2/3] is lower. Our experimental findings can be interpreted and explained using a theoretical scheme which combines Kinetic Monte Carlo simulations for aster growth, with a simple mechanistic model for bundles' formation and growth. According to this model, bundles emerge from the aster's (sparsely branched) surface layer. Bundles begin to form when the bending energy associated with bringing two filaments into contact is compensated by the energetic gain resulting from their fascin linking energy. As time evolves the initially thin and short bundles elongate, thus reducing their bending energy and allowing them to further associate and create thicker bundles, until all actin monomers are consumed. This process is essentially irreversible on the time scale of actin polymerization. Two structural parameters, L, which is proportional to the length of filament tips at the aster periphery and b, the spacing between their origins, dictate the onset of bundling; both depending on [Arp2/3]. Cells may use a similar mechanism to regulate filopodia formation along the cell leading edge. Such a mechanism may allow cells to have control over the localization of filopodia by recruiting specific proteins that regulate filaments length (e.g., Dia2) to specific sites along lamellipodia.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003297
PMCID: PMC2538570  PMID: 18820726

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