Cytoskeletons provide valuable information on the composition and organization of the cell's contractile machinery, and in many cases these cell models retain the ability to contract. To quantitate contraction rates, we developed a novel stopped-flow assay permitting simultaneous analysis of thousands of Dictyostelium cytoskeletons within milliseconds of mixing with Mg-ATP. Cytoskeletons were placed in one syringe of the stopped flow apparatus and the appropriate buffer was placed in the second syringe. Mixing with Mg-ATP caused an immediate increase in the absorbance at 310 nm. Rapid fixation of the cytoskeletons during the reaction confirmed that this change in absorbance was highly correlated with contraction of the cytoskeletons. This spectroscopic change was used to measure the effects of temperature, pH, ionic strength, and nucleotides on contraction rate. Treatment with high salt and ATP removed most of the myosin, some actin, and small amounts of minor proteins. These extracted cytoskeletons lost the ability to contract, but after the addition of purified Dictyostelium myosin they regained full function. In contrast, rabbit skeletal muscle myosin was unable to restore contractility, even though it bound to the extracted cytoskeletons. Cytoskeletons prepared from a myosin-null mutant did not contract. Upon the addition of purified ameba myosin, however, they became contractile. These results suggest that filamentous Dictyostelium myosin II is essential for contraction, and that the actin cytoskeleton and associated proteins retain their functional organization in the absence of myosin.

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