Coarse-graining provides insights on the essential nature of heterogeneity in actin filaments

Biophys J. 2012 Sep 19;103(6):1334-42. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2012.08.029.


Experiments have shown that actin is structurally polymorphic, but knowledge of the details of molecular level heterogeneity in both the dynamics of a single subunit and the interactions between subunits is still lacking. Here, using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations of the actin filament, we identify domains of atoms that move in a correlated fashion, quantify interactions between these domains using coarse-grained (CG) analysis methods, and perform CG simulations to explore the importance of filament heterogeneity. The persistence length and torsional stiffness calculated from molecular dynamics simulation data agree with experimental values. We additionally observe that distinct actin conformations coexist in actin filaments. The filaments also exhibit random twist angles that are broadly distributed. CG analysis reveals that interactions between equivalent CG pairs vary from one subunit to another. To explore the importance of heterogeneity on filament dynamics, we perform CG simulations using different methods of parameterization to show that only by including heterogeneous interactions can we reproduce the twist angles and related properties. Free energy calculations further suggest that in general the actin filament is best represented as a set of subunits with differing CG sites and interactions, and the incorporating heterogeneity into the CG interactions is more important than including that in the CG sites. Our work therefore presents a systematic method to explore molecular level detail in this large and complex biopolymer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Thermodynamics


  • Protein Subunits