Most nonmuscle cells are known to maintain a relatively high concentration of unpolymerized actin. To determine how the polymerization of actin is regulated, exogenous nucleation sites, prepared by sonicating fluorescein phalloidin-labeled actin filaments, were microinjected into living Swiss 3T3 and NRK cells. The nucleation sites remained as a cluster for over an hour after microinjection, and caused no detectable change in the phase morphology of the cell. As determined by immunofluorescence specific for endogenous actin and by staining cells with rhodamine phalloidin, the microinjection induced neither an extensive polymerization of endogenous actin off the nucleation sites, nor changes in the distribution of actin filaments. In addition, the extent of actin polymerization, as estimated by integrating the fluorescence intensities of bound rhodamine phalloidin, did not appear to be affected. To determine whether the nucleation sites remained active after microinjection, cells were first injected with nucleation sites and, following a 20-min incubation, microinjected with monomeric rhodamine-labeled actin. The rhodamine-labeled actin became extensively associated with the nucleation sites, suggesting that at least some of the nucleation activity was maintained, and that the endogenous actin behaved in a different manner from the exogenous actin subunits. Similarly, when cells containing nucleation sites were extracted and incubated with rhodamine-labeled actin, the rhodamine-labeled actin became associated with the nucleation sites in a cytochalasin-sensitive manner. These observations suggest that capping and inhibition of nucleation cannot account for the regulation of actin polymerization in living cells. However, the sequestration of monomers probably plays a crucial role.

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