Gelsolins are actin-binding proteins that cap, nucleate, and sever actin filaments. Microinjection of cytoplasmic or plasma gelsolin into living fibroblasts and macrophages did not affect the shape, actin distribution, deformability, or ruffling activity of the cells. Gelsolin requires calcium for activity, but the NH2-terminal half is active without calcium. Microinjection of this proteolytic fragment had marked effects: the cells rounded up, stopped ruffling, became soft, and stress fibers disappeared. These changes are similar to those seen with cytochalasin, which also caps barbed ends of actin filaments. Attempts to raise the cytoplasmic calcium concentration and thereby activate the injected gelsolin were unsuccessful, but the increases in calcium concentration were minimal or transient and may not have been sufficient. Our interpretation of these results is that at the low calcium concentrations normally found in cells, gelsolin does not express the activities observed in vitro at higher calcium concentrations. We presume that gelsolin may be active at certain times or places if the calcium concentration is elevated to a sufficient level, but we cannot exclude the existence of another molecule that inhibits gelsolin. Microinjection of a 1:1 gelsolin/actin complex had no effect on the cells. This complex is stable in the absence of calcium and has capping activity but no severing and less nucleation activity as compared with either gelsolin in calcium or the NH2-terminal fragment. The NH2-terminal fragment-actin complex also has capping and nucleating activity but no severing activity. On microinjection it had the same effects as the fragment alone. The basis for the difference between the two complexes is unknown. The native molecular weight of rabbit plasma gelsolin is 82,500, and the extinction coefficient at 280 nm is 1.68 cm2/mg. A new simple procedure for purification of plasma gelsolin is described.

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