The continuous assembly and disassembly of actin filament networks is vital for cellular processes including division, growth, and motility. Network remodeling is facilitated by cofilins, a family of essential regulatory proteins that fragment actin filaments. Cofilin induces net structural changes in filaments that render them more compliant in bending and twisting. A model in which local stress accumulation at mechanical discontinuities, such as boundaries of bare and cofilin-decorated filament segments, accounts for the cofilin concentration dependence of severing, including maximal activity at sub-stoichiometric binding densities. Real-time imaging of cofilin-mediated filament severing supports the boundary-fracture model. The severing model predicts that fragmentation is promoted by factors modulating filament mechanics (e.g. tethering, cross-linking, or deformation), possibly explaining enhanced in vivo severing activities.
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