Published on Mon Mar 15 2021

A structure-derived mechanism reveals how capping protein promotes nucleation in branched actin networks

Funk, J., Merino, F., Schaks, M., Rottner, K., Raunser, S., Bieling, P.

Heterodimeric capping protein (CP/CapZ) is an essential factor for the assembly of branched actin networks, which push against cellular membranes to drive a large variety of cellular processes. Aside from terminating filament growth, CP stimulates the nucleation of actin filaments by the Arp2/3 complex in branched actin networks through an unclear mechanism. Here, we report the structure of capped actin filament barbed ends, which reveals how CP not only prevents filament elongation, but also controls access to both terminal filament subunits. In addition to its primary binding site that blocks the penultimate subunit, we find that the CP sterically occludes the central interaction site of the terminal actin protomer through one of its C-terminal "tentacle" extensions. Deletion of this {beta} tentacle only modestly impairs capping. However in the context of a growing branched actin network, its removal potently inhibits nucleation promoting factors (NPFs) by tethering them to capped filament ends. End tethering of NPFs prevents their loading with actin monomers required for activation of the Arp2/3 complex and thus strongly inhibits branched network assembly both in cells and reconstituted motility assays. Our results mechanistically explain how CP couples two opposed processes -capping and nucleation- in branched actin network assembly.