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Curr Biol. 2001 Dec 11;11(24):1903-13.

Different WASP family proteins stimulate different Arp2/3 complex-dependent actin-nucleating activities.

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Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California-San Francisco, 94143, USA.



Assembly and organization of actin filaments are required for many cellular processes, including locomotion and division. In many cases, actin assembly is initiated when proteins of the WASP/Scar family respond to signals from Rho family G proteins and stimulate the actin-nucleating activity of the Arp2/3 complex. Two questions of fundamental importance raised in the study of actin dynamics concern the molecular mechanism of Arp2/3-dependent actin nucleation and how different signaling pathways that activate the same Arp2/3 complex produce actin networks with different three-dimensional architectures?


We directly compared the activity of the Arp2/3 complex in the presence of saturating concentrations of the minimal Arp2/3-activating domains of WASP, N-WASP, and Scar1 and found that each induces unique kinetics of actin assembly. In cell extracts, N-WASP induces rapid actin polymerization, while Scar1 fails to induce detectable polymerization. Using purified proteins, Scar1 induces the slowest rate of nucleation. WASP activity is 16-fold higher, and N-WASP activity is 70-fold higher. The data for all activators fit a mathematical model in which one activated Arp2/3 complex, one actin monomer, and an actin filament combine into a preactivation complex which then undergoes a first-order activation step to become a nucleus. The differences between Scar and N-WASP activity are explained by differences in the rate constants for the activation step. Changing the number of actin binding sites on a WASP family protein, either by removing a WH2 domain from N-WASP or by adding WH2 domains to Scar1, has no significant effect on nucleation activity. The addition of a three amino acid insertion found in the C-terminal acidic domains of WASP and N-WASP, however, increases the activity of Scar1 by more than 20-fold. Using chemical crosslinking assays, we determined that both N-WASP and Scar1 induce a conformational change in the Arp2/3 complex but crosslink with different efficiencies to the small molecular weight subunits p18 and p14.


The WA domains of N-WASP, WASP, and Scar1 bind actin and Arp2/3 with nearly identical affinities but stimulate rates of actin nucleation that vary by almost 100-fold. The differences in nucleation rate are caused by differences in the number of acidic amino acids at the C terminus, so each protein is tuned to produce a different rate of actin filament formation. Arp2/3, therefore, is not regulated by a simple on-off switch. Precise tuning of the filament formation rate may help determine the architecture of actin networks produced by different nucleation-promoting factors.

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