Eukaryotic cells contain branched actin networks that are essential for endocytosis, motility, and other key cellular processes. These networks, which are formed by filamentous actin and the Arp2/3 complex, must subsequently be debranched to allow network remodeling and to recycle the Arp2/3 complex. Debranching appears to be catalyzed by two different members of the actin depolymerizing factor homology protein family: cofilin and glial maturation factor (GMF). However, their mechanisms of debranching are only partially understood. Here, we used single-molecule fluorescence imaging of Arp2/3 complex and actin filaments under physiological ionic conditions to observe debranching by GMF and cofilin. We demonstrate that cofilin, like GMF, is an authentic debrancher independent of its filament-severing activity and that the debranching activities of the two proteins are additive. While GMF binds directly to the Arp2/3 complex, cofilin selectively accumulates on branch-junction daughter filaments in tropomyosin-decorated networks just prior to debranching events. Quantitative comparison of debranching rates with the known kinetics of cofilin-actin binding suggests that cofilin occupancy of a particular single actin site at the branch junction is sufficient to trigger debranching. In rare cases in which the order of departure could be resolved during GMF- or cofilin-induced debranching, the Arp2/3 complex left the branch junction bound to the pointed end of the daughter filament, suggesting that both GMF and cofilin can work by destabilizing the mother filament-Arp2/3 complex interface. Taken together, these observations suggest that GMF and cofilin promote debranching by distinct yet complementary mechanisms.
Keywords: Arp2/3 complex; actin depolymerizing factor homology; branched actin networks; glial maturation factor; tropomyosin.