Actin depolymerizing factor (ADF) from vertebrates and actophorin from Acanthamoeba castellanii are members of a protein family that bind monomeric and polymeric actin and have been shown by microscopy to sever filaments. Here, we compare the properties of recombinant human ADF and actophorin using rabbit muscle actin. ADF binds tenfold more strongly than actophorin to monomeric actin (G-actin)-ATP, and both bind co-operatively to F-actin. ADF decorates filaments below pH 7.3 and induces substantial depolymerization at higher pH values [Hawkins, M., Pope, B., Maciver, S. K. & Weeds, A. G. (1993) Human actin depolymerizing factor mediates a pH-sensitive destruction of actin filaments, Biochemistry 32, 9985-9993], but, at all pH values tested, actophorin binds to filaments in a similar manner to ADF at pH 6.5. Both proteins increase the depolymerization rate at the pointed ends of gelsolin-capped filaments, but the effect of ADF is more marked at pH 8.0. Both proteins accelerate the nucleating activity when mixed with filamentous actin (F-actin), but not with gelsolin-capped filaments, and they rapidly decrease the lengths of filaments as evidenced by electron microscopy. Both of these effects are best explained by a weak severing activity. Our results are discussed in relation to earlier models and to the structural changes observed when ADF binds F-actin [McGough, A., Pope, B., Chiu, W. & Weeds, A. (1997) Cofilin changes the twist of F-actin: implications for actin filament dynamics and cellular function, J. Cell Biol. 138, 771-781]. We also discuss the relevance of these observations to their possible roles in facilitating actin turnover in cells, thereby regulating filament dynamics in cell motility.