We have investigated spreading of postmitotic PtK2 cells and the behavior of actin filaments in this system by time-lapse microscopy and photoactivation of fluorescence. During mitosis PtK2 cells round up and at cytokinesis the daughter cells spread back to regain their interphase morphology. Normal spreading edges are quite homogenous and are not comprised of two distinct areas (lamellae and lamellipodia) as found in moving edges of interphase motile cells. Spreading edges are connected to a network of long, thin, actin-rich fibers called retraction fibers. A role for retraction fibers in spreading was tested by mechanical disruption of fibers ahead of a spreading edge. Spreading is inhibited over the region of disruption, but not over neighboring intact fibers. Using photoactivation of fluorescence to mark actin filaments, we have determined that the majority of actin filaments move forward in spreading edges at the same rate as the edge. As far as we are aware, this is the first time that forward movement of a cell edge has been correlated with forward movement of actin filaments. In contrast, actin filaments in retraction fibers remain stationary with respect to the substrate. Thus there are at least two dynamic populations of actin polymer in spreading postmitotic cells. This is supported by the observation that actin filaments in some spreading edges not only move forward, but also separate into two fractions or broaden with time. A small fraction of postmitotic cells have a spreading edge with a distinct lamellipodium. In these edges, marked actin polymer fluxes backward with respect to substrate. We suggest that forward movement of actin filaments may participate in generating force for spreading in postmitotic cells and perhaps more generally for cell locomotion.

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