Cortactin is a c-src substrate associated with sites of dynamic actin assembly at the leading edge of migrating cells. We previously showed that cortactin binds to Arp2/3 complex, the essential molecular machine for nucleating actin filament assembly. In this study, we demonstrate that cortactin activates Arp2/3 complex based on direct visualization of filament networks and pyrene actin assays. Strikingly, cortactin potently inhibited the debranching of filament networks. When cortactin was added in combination with the active VCA fragment of N-WASp, they synergistically enhanced Arp2/3-induced actin filament branching. The N-terminal acidic and F-actin binding domains of cortactin were both necessary to activate Arp2/3 complex. These results support a model in which cortactin modulates actin filament dendritic nucleation by two mechanisms, (1) direct activation of Arp2/3 complex and (2) stabilization of newly generated filament branch points. By these mechanisms, cortactin may promote the formation and stabilization of the actin network that drives protrusion at the leading edge of migrating cells.