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The mechanical and structural properties of actin cytoskeleton drive various cellular processes, including structural support of the plasma membrane and cellular motility. Actin monomers assemble into double-stranded helical filaments as well as higher-ordered structures such as bundles and networks. Cells incorporate macromolecular crowding, cation interactions, and actin-crosslinking proteins to regulate the organization of actin bundles. Although the roles of each of these factors in actin bundling have been well-known individually, how combined factors contribute to actin bundle assembly, organization, and mechanics is not fully understood. Here, we describe recent studies that have investigated the mechanisms of how intracellular environmental factors influence actin bundling. This review highlights the effects of macromolecular crowding, cation interactions, and actin-crosslinking proteins on actin bundle organization, structure, and mechanics. Understanding these mechanisms is important in determining in vivo actin biophysics and providing insights into cell physiology.
Micron-scale supramolecular myosin arrays help mediate cytoskeletal assembly at mature adherens junctions
Epithelial cells assemble specialized actomyosin structures at E-Cadherin–based cell–cell junctions, and the force exerted drives cell shape change during morphogenesis. The mechanisms that build this supramolecular actomyosin structure remain unclear. We used ZO-knockdown MDCK cells, which assemble a robust, polarized, and highly organized actomyosin cytoskeleton at the zonula adherens, combining genetic and pharmacologic approaches with superresolution microscopy to define molecular machines required. To our surprise, inhibiting individual actin assembly pathways (Arp2/3, formins, or Ena/VASP) did not prevent or delay assembly of this polarized actomyosin structure. Instead, as junctions matured, micron-scale supramolecular myosin arrays assembled, with aligned stacks of myosin filaments adjacent to the apical membrane, overlying disorganized actin filaments. This suggested that myosin arrays might bundle actin at mature junctions. Consistent with this idea, inhibiting ROCK or myosin ATPase disrupted myosin localization/organization and prevented actin bundling and polarization. We obtained similar results in Caco-2 cells. These results suggest a novel role for myosin self-assembly, helping drive actin organization to facilitate cell shape change.
Actin Bundle Nanomechanics and Organization Are Modulated by Macromolecular Crowding and Electrostatic InteractionsThe structural and mechanical properties of actin bundles are essential to eukaryotic cells, aiding in cell motility and mechanical support of the plasma membrane. Bundle formation occurs in crowded intracellular environments composed of various ions and macromolecules. Although the roles of cations and macromolecular crowding in the mechanics and organization of actin bundles have been independently established, how changing both intracellular environmental conditions influence bundle mechanics at the nanoscale has yet to be established. Here we investigate how electrostatics and depletion interactions modulate the relative Young’s modulus and height of actin bundles using atomic force microscopy. Our results demonstrate that cation- and depletion-induced bundles display an overall reduction of relative Young’s modulus depending on either cation or crowding concentrations. Furthermore, we directly measure changes to cation- and depletion-induced bundle height, indicating that bundles experience alterations to filament packing supporting the reduction to relative Young’s modulus. Taken together, our work suggests that electrostatic and depletion interactions may act counteractively, impacting actin bundle nanomechanics and organization.
Confinement Geometry Tunes Fascin-Actin Bundle Structures and Consequently the Shape of a Lipid Bilayer VesicleDepending on the physical and biochemical properties of actin-binding proteins, actin networks form different types of membrane protrusions at the cell periphery. Actin crosslinkers, which facilitate the interaction of actin filaments with one another, are pivotal in determining the mechanical properties and protrusive behavior of actin networks. Short crosslinkers such as fascin bundle F-actin to form rigid spiky filopodial protrusions. By encapsulation of fascin and actin in giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs), we show that fascin-actin bundles cause various GUV shape changes by forming bundle networks or straight single bundles depending on GUV size and fascin concentration. We also show that the presence of a long crosslinker, α-actinin, impacts fascin-induced GUV shape changes and significantly impairs the formation of filopodia-like protrusions. Actin bundle-induced GUV shape changes are confirmed by light-induced disassembly of actin bundles leading to the reversal of GUV shape. Our study contributes to advancing the design of shape-changing minimal cells for better characterization of the interaction between lipid bilayer membranes and actin cytoskeleton.
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