The intracellular bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes moves inside the host-cell cytoplasm propelled by continuous actin assembly at one pole of the bacterium. This process requires expression of the bacterial surface protein ActA. Recently, in order to identify the regions of ActA which are required for actin assembly, we and others have expressed different domains of ActA by transfection in eukaryotic cells. As this type of approach cannot address the role of ActA in the actin-driven bacterial propulsion, we have now generated several L. monocytogenes strains expressing different domains of ActA and analysed the ability of the different domains to trigger actin assembly and bacterial movement in both infected cells and cytoplasmic extracts. We show here that the amino-terminal part is critical for F-actin assembly and movement. The internal proline-rich repeats and the carboxy-terminal domains are not essential. However, in vitro motility assays have demonstrated that mutants lacking the proline-rich repeats domain of ActA moved two times slower (6+/-2 micrometers min(-1)) than the wild type (13 +/-3 micrometers min(-1)). In addition, phosphatase treatment of protein extracts of cells infected with the L. monocytogenes strains expressing the ActA variants suggested that phosphorylation may not be essential for ActA activity.