Dendritic organization of actin comet tails

Curr Biol. 2001 Jan 23;11(2):130-5. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(01)00022-7.


Polymerization of actin filaments is necessary for both protrusion of the leading edge of crawling cells and propulsion of certain intracellular pathogens, and it is sufficient for generating force for bacterial motility in vitro. Motile intracellular pathogens are associated with actin-rich comet tails containing many of the same molecular components present in lamellipodia, and this suggests that these two systems use a similar mechanism for motility. However, available structural evidence suggests that the organization of comet tails differs from that of lamellipodia. Actin filaments in lamellipodia form branched arrays, which are thought to arise by dendritic nucleation mediated by the Arp2/3 complex. In contrast, comet tails have been variously described as consisting of short, randomly oriented filaments, with a higher degree of alignment at the periphery, or as containing long, straight axial filaments with a small number of oblique filaments. Because the assembly of pathogen-associated comet tails has been used as a model system for lamellipodial protrusion, it is important to resolve this apparent discrepancy. Here, using a platinum replica approach, we show that actin filament arrays in comet tails in fact have a dendritic organization with the Arp2/3 complex localizing to Y-junctions as in lamellipodia. Thus, comet tails and lamellipodia appear to share a common dendritic nucleation mechanism for protrusive motility. However, comet tails differ from lamellipodia in that their actin filaments are usually twisted and appear to be under significant torsional stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actins / ultrastructure*
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence


  • Actins