Two fundamental parameters of the highly dynamic, ultrathin lamellipodia of migrating fibroblasts have been determined-its thickness in living cells (176 +/- 14 nm), by standing-wave fluorescence microscopy, and its F-actin density (1580 +/- 613 microm of F-actin/microm(3)), via image-based photometry. In combination with data from previous studies, we have computed the density of growing actin filament ends at the lamellipodium margin (241 +/- 100/microm) and the maximum force (1.86 +/- 0.83 nN/microm) and pressure (10.5 +/- 4.8 kPa) obtainable via actin assembly. We have used cell deformability measurements (. J. Cell Sci. 44:187-200;. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 79:5327-5331) and an estimate of the force required to stall the polymerization of a single filament (. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 78:5613-5617;. Biophys. J. 65:316-324) to argue that actin assembly alone could drive lamellipodial extension directly.