We have developed a reconstituted gel-sol and contractile model system that mimics the structure and dynamics found at the ectoplasm/endoplasm interface in the tails of many amoeboid cells. We tested the role of gel-sol transformations of the actin-based cytoskeleton in the regulation of contraction and in the generation of endoplasm from ectoplasm. In a model system with fully phosphorylated myosin II, we demonstrated that either decreasing the actin filament length distribution or decreasing the extent of actin filament cross-linking initiated both a weakening of the gel strength and contraction. However, streaming of the solated gel components occurred only under conditions where the length distribution of actin was decreased, causing a self-destruct process of continued solation and contraction of the gel. These results offer significant support that gel strength plays an important role in the regulation of actin/myosin II-based contractions of the tail cortex in many amoeboid cells as defined by the solation-contraction coupling hypothesis (Taylor, D. L., and M. Fechheimer. 1982. Phil. Trans. Soc. Lond. B. 299:185-197). The competing processes of solation and contraction of the gel would appear to be mutually exclusive. However, it is the temporal-spatial balance of the rate and extent of two stages of solation, coupled to contraction, that can explain the conversion of gelled ectoplasm in the tail to a solated endoplasm within the same small volume, generation of a force for the retraction of tails, maintenance of cell polarity, and creation of a positive hydrostatic pressure to push against the newly formed endoplasm. The mechanism of solation-contraction of cortical cytoplasm may be a general component of the normal movement of a variety of amoeboid cells and may also be a component of other contractile events such as cytokinesis.

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