We used computational methods to analyze the mechanism of actin filament nucleation. We assumed a pathway where monomers form dimers, trimers, and tetramers that then elongate to form filaments but also considered other pathways. We aimed to identify the rate constants for these reactions that best fit experimental measurements of polymerization time courses. The analysis showed that the formation of dimers and trimers is unfavorable because the association reactions are orders of magnitude slower than estimated in previous work rather than because of rapid dissociation of dimers and trimers. The 95% confidence intervals calculated for the four rate constants spanned no more than one order of magnitude. Slow nucleation reactions are consistent with published high-resolution structures of actin filaments and molecular dynamics simulations of filament ends. One explanation for slow dimer formation, which we support with computational analysis, is that actin monomers are in a conformational equilibrium with a dominant conformation that cannot participate in the nucleation steps.
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