The ability to dynamically assemble contractile networks is required throughout cell physiology, yet direct biophysical mechanisms regulating non-muscle myosin 2 filament assembly in living cells are lacking. Here, we use a suite of dynamic, quantitative imaging approaches to identify deterministic factors that drive myosin filament appearance and amplification. We find that actin dynamics regulate myosin assembly, but that the static actin architecture plays a less clear role. Instead, remodeling of actin networks modulates the local myosin monomer levels and facilitates assembly through myosin:myosin-driven interactions. Using optogenetically controlled myosin, we demonstrate that locally concentrating myosin is sufficient to both form filaments and jump-start filament amplification and partitioning. By counting myosin monomers within filaments, we demonstrate a myosin-facilitated assembly process that establishes filament stacks prior to partitioning into clusters that feed higher-order networks. Together, these findings establish the biophysical mechanisms regulating the assembly of non-muscle contractile structures that are ubiquitous throughout cell biology.

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