Structural basis of fast- and slow-severing actin-cofilactin boundaries

J Biol Chem. 2021 Jan-Jun;296:100337. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2021.100337. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Members of the ADF/cofilin family of regulatory proteins bind actin filaments cooperatively, locally change actin subunit conformation and orientation, and sever filaments at "boundaries" between bare and cofilin-occupied segments. A cluster of bound cofilin introduces two distinct classes of boundaries due to the intrinsic polarity of actin filaments, one at the "pointed" end side and the other at the "barbed" end-side of the cluster; severing occurs more readily at the pointed end side of the cluster ("fast-severing" boundary) than the barbed end side ("slow-severing" boundary). A recent electron-cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) model of the slow-severing boundary revealed structural "defects" at the interface that potentially contribute to severing. However, the structure of the fast-severing boundary remains uncertain. Here, we use extensive molecular dynamics simulations to produce atomic resolution models of both severing boundaries. Our equilibrated simulation model of the slow-severing boundary is consistent with the cryo-EM structural model. Simulations indicate that actin subunits at both boundaries adopt structures intermediate between those of bare and cofilin-bound actin subunits. These "intermediate" states have compromised intersubunit contacts, but those at the slow-severing boundary are stabilized by cofilin bridging interactions, accounting for its lower fragmentation probability. Simulations where cofilin proteins are removed from cofilactin filaments favor a mechanism in which a cluster of two contiguously bound cofilins is needed to fully stabilize the cofilactin conformation, promote cooperative binding interactions, and accelerate filament severing. Together, these studies provide a molecular-scale foundation for developing coarse-grained and theoretical descriptions of cofilin-mediated actin filament severing.

Keywords: actin; cofilin; computer modeling; molecular dynamics; severing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / chemistry
  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / chemistry
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors / metabolism*
  • Actins / chemistry
  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Chickens
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Subunits / chemistry
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Rabbits


  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors
  • Actins
  • Protein Subunits