Severin from Dictyostelium discoideum is a Ca2(+)-activated actin-binding protein that severs actin filaments, nucleates actin assembly, and caps the fast growing ends of actin filaments. Sequence comparison with functionally related proteins, such as gelsolin, villin, or fragmin revealed highly conserved domains which are thought to be of functional significance. To attribute the different activities of the severin molecule to defined regions, progressively truncated severin polypeptides were constructed. The complete cDNA coding for 362 (DS362) amino acids and five 3' deletions coding for 277 (DS277), 177 (DS177), 151 (DS151), 117 (DS117), or 111 (DS111) amino acids were expressed in Escherichia coli. The proteins were purified to homogeneity and then characterized with respect to their effects on the polymerization or depolymerization kinetics of G- or F-actin solutions and their binding to G-actin. Furthermore, the Ca2+ binding of these proteins was investigated with a 45Ca-overlay assay and by monitoring Ca2(+)-dependent changes in tryptophan fluorescence. Bacterially expressed DS362 showed the same Ca2(+)-dependent activities as native severin. DS277, missing the 85 COOH-terminal amino acids of severin, had lost its strict Ca2+ regulation and displayed a Ca2(+)-independent capping activity, but was still Ca2+ dependent in its severing and nucleating activities. DS151 which corresponded to the first domain of gelsolin or villin had completely lost severing and nucleating properties. However, a residual severing activity of approximately 2% was detectable if 26 amino acids more were present at the COOH-terminal end (DS177). This locates similar to gelsolin the second actin-binding site to the border region between the first and second domain. Measuring the fluorescence enhancement of pyrene-labeled G-actin in the presence of DS111 showed that the first actin-binding site was present in the NH2-terminal 111 amino acids. Extension by six or more amino acids stabilized this actin-binding site in such a way that DS117 and even more pronounced DS151 became Ca2(+)-independent capping proteins. In comparison to many reports on gelsolin we draw the following conclusions. Among the three active actin-binding sites in gelsolin the closely neighboured sites one and two share the F-actin fragmenting function, whereas the actin-binding sites two and three, which are located in far distant domains, collaborate for nucleation. In contrast, severin contains two active actin-binding sites which are next to each other and are responsible for the severing as well as the nucleating function. The single actin-binding site near the NH2-terminus is sufficient for capping of actin filaments.

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