Background: Both single cells and multicellular systems rapidly heal physical insults but are thought to do so by distinctly different mechanisms. Wounds in single cells heal by calcium-dependent membrane fusion, whereas multicellular wounds heal by a variety of different mechanisms, including circumferential contraction of an actomyosin 'purse string' that assembles around wound borders and is dependent upon the small GTPase Rho.
Results: We investigated healing of puncture wounds made in Xenopus oocytes, a single-cell system. Oocyte wounds rapidly assumed a circular morphology and constricted circumferentially, coincident with the recruitment of filamentous actin (F-actin) and myosin-II to the wound borders. Surprisingly, recruitment of myosin-II to wound borders occurred before that of F-actin. Further, experimental disruption of F-actin prevented healing but did not prevent myosin-II recruitment. Actomyosin purse-string assembly and closure was dependent on Rho GTPases and extracellular calcium. Wounding resulted in reorganization of microtubules into an array similar to that which forms during cytokinesis in Xenopus embryos. Experimental perturbation of oocyte microtubules before wounding inhibited actomyosin recruitment and wound closure, whereas depolymerization of microtubules after wounding accelerated wound closure.
Conclusions: We conclude the following: actomyosin purse strings can close single-cell wounds; myosin-II is recruited to wound borders independently of F-actin; purse-string assembly is dependent on a Rho GTPase; and purse-string assembly and closure are controlled by microtubules. More generally, the results indicate that actomyosin purse strings have been co-opted through evolution to dispatch a broad variety of single-cell and multicellular processes, including wound healing, cytokinesis and morphogenesis.