The rate of filamentous actin (F-actin) depolymerization is proportional to the number of filaments depolarizing and changes in the rate are proportional to changes in filament number. To determine the number and length of actin filaments in polymorphonuclear leukocytes and the change in filament number and length that occurs during the increase in F-actin upon chemoattractant stimulation, the time course of cellular F-actin depolymerization in lysates of control and peptide-stimulated cells was examined. F-actin was quantified by the TRITC-labeled phalloidin staining of pelletable actin. Lysis in 1.2 M KCl and 10 microM DNase I minimized the effects of F-actin binding proteins and G-actin, respectively, on the kinetics of depolymerization. To determine filament number and length from a depolymerization time course, depolymerization kinetics must be limited by the actin monomer dissociation rate. Comparison of time courses of depolymerization in the presence (pointed ends free) or absence (barbed and pointed ends free) of cytochalasin suggested depolymerization occurred from both ends of the filament and that monomer dissociation was rate limiting. Control cells had 1.7 +/- 0.4 x 10(5) filaments with an average length of 0.29 +/- 0.09 microns. Chemo-attractant stimulation for 90 s at room temperature with 0.02 microM N-formylnorleucylleucylphenylalanine caused a twofold increase in F-actin and about a two-fold increase in the total number of actin filaments to 4.0 +/- 0.5 x 10(5) filaments with an average length of 0.27 +/- 0.07 microns. In both cases, most (approximately 80%) of the filaments were quite short (less than or equal to 0.18 micron). The length distributions of actin filaments in stimulated and control cells were similar.

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