Caldesmon is known to inhibit actomyosin ATPase and filament sliding in vitro, and may play a role in modulating smooth muscle contraction as well as in diverse cellular processes including cytokinesis and exocytosis. However, the structural basis of caldesmon action has not previously been apparent. We have recorded electron microscope images of negatively stained thin filaments containing caldesmon and tropomyosin which were isolated from chicken gizzard smooth muscle in EGTA. Three-dimensional helical reconstructions of these filaments show actin monomers whose bilobed shape and connectivity are very similar to those previously seen in reconstructions of frozen-hydrated skeletal muscle thin filaments. In addition, a continuous thin strand of density follows the long-pitch actin helices, in contact with the inner domain of each actin monomer. Gizzard thin filaments treated with Ca2+/calmodulin, which dissociated caldesmon but not tropomyosin, have also been reconstructed. Under these conditions, reconstructions also reveal a bilobed actin monomer, as well as a continuous surface strand that appears to have moved to a position closer to the outer domain of actin. The strands seen in both EGTA- and Ca2+/calmodulin-treated filaments thus presumably represent tropomyosin. It appears that caldesmon can fix tropomyosin in a particular position on actin in the absence of calcium. An influence of caldesmon on tropomyosin position might, in principle, account for caldesmon's ability to modulate actomyosin interaction in both smooth muscles and non-muscle cells.

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