Background: Formin proteins nucleate actin filaments de novo and stay associated with the growing barbed end. Whereas the formin-homology (FH) 2 domains mediate processive association, the FH1 domains-in concert with the actin-monomer-binding protein profilin-increase the rate of barbed-end elongation. The mechanism by which this effect is achieved is not well understood.
Results: We used total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to measure the effect of profilin on the elongation of single actin filaments associated with FH1FH2 constructs (derived from the formin Bni1p from S. cerevisiae) with FH1 domains containing one to eight profilin-binding polyproline tracks. Over a large range of profilin concentrations (0.5-25 microM), the rate of barbed-end elongation increases with the number of polyproline tracks in the FH1 domain. The binding of profilin-actin to the FH1 domain is the rate-limiting step (up to rates of at least 88 s(-1)) in FH1-mediated transfer of actin subunits to the barbed end. Dissociation of formins from barbed ends growing in the presence of profilin is proportional to the elongation rate. Profilin profoundly inhibits nucleation by FH2 and FH1FH2 constructs, but profilin-actin bound to FH1 might contribute weakly to nucleation.
Conclusions: To achieve fast elongation, formin FH1 domains bind profilin-actin complexes and deliver them rapidly to the barbed end associated with the FH2 domain. Because subunit addition promotes dissociation of FH2 domains from growing barbed ends, FH2 domains must pass through a state that is prone to dissociation during each cycle of actin subunit addition coupled to formin translocation.