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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e40814. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040814. Epub 2012 Jul 13.

Functions of nonmuscle myosin II in assembly of the cellular contractile system.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


The contractile system of nonmuscle cells consists of interconnected actomyosin networks and bundles anchored to focal adhesions. The initiation of the contractile system assembly is poorly understood structurally and mechanistically, whereas system's maturation heavily depends on nonmuscle myosin II (NMII). Using platinum replica electron microscopy in combination with fluorescence microscopy, we characterized the structural mechanisms of the contractile system assembly and roles of NMII at early stages of this process. We show that inhibition of NMII by a specific inhibitor, blebbistatin, in addition to known effects, such as disassembly of stress fibers and mature focal adhesions, also causes transformation of lamellipodia into unattached ruffles, loss of immature focal complexes, loss of cytoskeleton-associated NMII filaments and peripheral accumulation of activated, but unpolymerized NMII. After blebbistatin washout, assembly of the contractile system begins with quick and coordinated recovery of lamellipodia and focal complexes that occurs before reappearance of NMII bipolar filaments. The initial formation of focal complexes and subsequent assembly of NMII filaments preferentially occurred in association with filopodial bundles and concave actin bundles formed by filopodial roots at the lamellipodial base. Over time, accumulating NMII filaments help to transform the precursor structures, focal complexes and associated thin bundles, into stress fibers and mature focal adhesions. However, semi-sarcomeric organization of stress fibers develops at much slower rate. Together, our data suggest that activation of NMII motor activity by light chain phosphorylation occurs at the cell edge and is uncoupled from NMII assembly into bipolar filaments. We propose that activated, but unpolymerized NMII initiates focal complexes, thus providing traction for lamellipodial protrusion. Subsequently, the mechanical resistance of focal complexes activates a load-dependent mechanism of NMII polymerization in association with attached bundles, leading to assembly of stress fibers and maturation of focal adhesions.

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