A short nonhelical sequence at the COOH-terminus of vertebrate nonmuscle myosin has been shown to enhance myosin filament assembly. We have analyzed the role of this sequence in chicken intestinal epithelial brush border myosin, using protein engineering/site-directed mutagenesis. Clones encoding the rod region of this myosin were isolated and sequenced. They were truncated at various restriction sites and expressed in Escherichia coli, yielding a series of mutant myosin rods with or without the COOH-terminal tailpiece and with serial deletions from their NH2-termini. Deletion of the 35 residue COOH-terminal nonhelical tailpiece was sufficient to increase the critical concentration for myosin rod assembly by 50-fold (at 150 mM NaCl, pH 7.5), whereas NH2-terminal deletions had only minor effects. The only exception was the longest NH2-terminal deletion, which reduced the rod to 119 amino acids and rendered it assembly incompetent. The COOH-terminal tailpiece could be reduced by 15 amino acids and it still efficiently promoted assembly. We also found that the tailpiece promoted assembly of both filaments and segments; assemblies which have different molecular overlaps. Rod fragments carrying the COOH-terminal tailpiece did not promote the assembly of COOH-terminally deleted material when the two were mixed together. The tailpiece sequence thus has profound effects on assembly, yet it is apparently unstructured and can be bisected without affecting its function. Taken together these observations suggest that the nonhelical tailpiece may act sterically to block an otherwise dominant but unproductive molecular interaction in the self assembly process and does not, as has been previously thought, bind to a specific target site(s) on a neighboring molecule.

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