Single-molecule analysis of actin filament debranching by cofilin and GMF

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Jul 19;119(29):e2115129119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2115129119. Epub 2022 Jul 11.


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.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors* / metabolism
  • Actin-Related Protein 2-3 Complex / metabolism
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Glia Maturation Factor* / metabolism
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Single Molecule Imaging


  • Actin Depolymerizing Factors
  • Actin-Related Protein 2-3 Complex
  • Actins
  • Glia Maturation Factor