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J Cell Biol. 2011 Nov 28;195(5):721-7. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201102039.

Actin filaments function as a tension sensor by tension-dependent binding of cofilin to the filament.

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  • 1Cell Mechanosensing Project, International Cooperative Research Project/Solution-Oriented Research for Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency, Kawaguchi 332-0012, Japan.


Intracellular and extracellular mechanical forces affect the structure and dynamics of the actin cytoskeleton. However, the underlying molecular and biophysical mechanisms, including how mechanical forces are sensed, are largely unknown. Actin-depolymerizing factor/cofilin proteins are actin-modulating proteins that are ubiquitously distributed in eukaryotes, and they are the most likely candidate as proteins to drive stress fiber disassembly in response to changes in tension in the fiber. In this study, we propose a novel hypothesis that tension in an actin filament prevents the filament from being severed by cofilin. To test this, we placed single actin filaments under tension using optical tweezers. When a fiber was tensed, it was severed after the application of cofilin with a significantly larger delay in comparison with control filaments suspended in solution. The binding rate of cofilin to an actin bundle decreased when the bundle was tensed. These results suggest that tension in an actin filament reduces the cofilin binding, resulting in a decrease in its effective severing activity.

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