We have investigated accumulation of alpha-actinin, the principal cross-linker of actin filaments, in four Drosophila fliA mutants. A single gene is variably spliced to generate one nonmuscle and two muscle isoforms whose primary sequence differences are confined to a peptide spanning the actin binding domain and first central repeat. In fliA3 the synthesis of an adult muscle-specific isoform is blocked in flight and leg muscles, while in fliA4 the synthesis of nonmuscle and both muscle-specific isoforms is severely reduced. Affected muscles are weak or paralyzed, and, in the case of fliA3, atrophic. Their myofibrils, while structurally irregular, are remarkably normal considering that they are nearly devoid of a major contractile protein. Also surprising is that no obvious nonmuscle cell abnormalities can be discerned despite the fact that both the fliA1- and fliA4-associated mutations perturb the nonmuscle isoform. Our observations suggest that alpha-actinin stabilizes and anchors thin filament arrays, rather than orchestrating their assembly, and further imply that alpha-actinin function is redundant in both muscle and nonmuscle cells.

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