An actin polymerization-retarding protein was isolated from chicken gizzard smooth muscle. This protein copurified with vinculin on DEAE-cellulose and gel filtration columns. The polymerization-retarding protein could be separated from vinculin by hydroxylapatite chromatography. The isolated polymerization-retarding protein lost its activity within a few days, but was stable for weeks when it was not separated from vinculin. We termed the polymerization-retarding protein "insertin". Because of the instability of the isolated insertin, we investigated the effect of insertin-vinculin on actin polymerization. Insertin-vinculin retarded nucleated actin polymerization maximally fivefold. Polymerization at the pointed ends of gelsolin-capped actin filaments was not affected by insertin-vinculin, suggesting that insertin-vinculin binds to the barbed ends, but not to the pointed ends, of actin filaments. Retarded polymerization was observed even if the actin monomer concentration was between the critical concentrations of the ends of treadmilling actin filaments. As at this low monomer concentration the pointed ends depolymerize, monomers appeared to be inserted at the barbed ends between the terminal subunit and barbed end-bound insertin molecules. Insertin-vinculin was found not to increase the actin monomer concentration to the value of the pointed ends. These observations support the conclusion that insertin is not a barbed end-capping protein but an actin monomer-inserting protein. According to a quantitative analysis of the kinetic data, all observations could be explained by a model in which two insertin molecules were assumed to bind co-operatively to the barbed ends of actin filaments. Actin monomers were found to be inserted between the barbed ends and barbed end-bound insertin molecules at a rate of about 1 x 10(6) M-1 s-1. Insertin may be an essential part of the machinery of molecules that permit treadmilling of actin filaments in living cells by insertion of actin molecules between membranes and actin filaments.