Actin-based propulsion of the bacteria Listeria and Shigella mimics the forward movement of the leading edge of motile cells. While Shigella harnesses the eukaryotic protein N-WASp to stimulate actin polymerization and filament branching through Arp2/3 complex, the Listeria surface protein ActA directly activates Arp2/3 complex by an unknown mechanism. Here we show that the N-terminal domain of ActA binds one actin monomer, in a profilin-like fashion, and Arp2/3 complex and mimics the C-terminal domain of WASp family proteins in catalyzing filament barbed end branching by Arp2/3 complex. No evidence is found for side branching of filaments by ActA-activated Arp2/3 complex. Mutations in the conserved acidic (41)DEWEEE(46) and basic (146)KKRRK(150) regions of ActA affect Arp2/3 binding but not G-actin binding. The motility properties of wild-type and mutated Listeria strains in living cells and in the medium reconstituted from pure proteins confirm the conclusions of biochemical experiments. Filament branching is followed by rapid debranching. Debranching is 3-4-fold faster when Arp2/3 is activated by ActA than by the C-terminal domain of N-WASp. VASP is required for efficient propulsion of ActA-coated beads in the reconstituted motility medium, but it does not affect the rates of barbed end branching/debranching by ActA-activated Arp2/3 nor the capping of filaments. VASP therefore affects another still unidentified biochemical reaction that plays an important role in actin-based movement.