Formins stimulate actin polymerization by promoting both filament nucleation and elongation. Because nucleation and elongation draw upon a common pool of actin monomers, the rate at which each reaction proceeds influences the other. This interdependent mechanism determines the number of filaments assembled over the course of a polymerization reaction, as well as their equilibrium lengths. In this study, we used kinetic modeling and in vitro polymerization reactions to dissect the contributions of filament nucleation and elongation to the process of formin-mediated actin assembly. We found that the rates of nucleation and elongation evolve over the course of a polymerization reaction. The period over which each process occurs is a key determinant of the total number of filaments that are assembled, as well as their average lengths at equilibrium. Inclusion of formin in polymerization reactions speeds filament nucleation, thus increasing the number and shortening the lengths of filaments that are assembled over the course of the reaction. Modulation of the elongation rate produces modest changes in the equilibrium lengths of formin-bound filaments. However, the dependence of filament length on the elongation rate is limited by the number of filament ends generated via formin's nucleation activity. Sustained elongation of small numbers of formin-bound filaments, therefore, requires inhibition of nucleation via monomer sequestration and a low concentration of activated formin. Our results underscore the mechanistic advantage for keeping formin's nucleation efficiency relatively low in cells, where unregulated actin assembly would produce deleterious effects on cytoskeletal dynamics. Under these conditions, differences in the elongation rates mediated by formin isoforms are most likely to impact the kinetics of actin assembly.
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This work was supported by National Institutes of Health research grant R01GM122787 .
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