There are two isoforms of the vertebrate nonmuscle myosin heavy chain, MHC-A and MHC-B, that are encoded by two separate genes. We compared the enzymatic activities as well as the subcellular localizations of these isoforms in Xenopus cells. MHC-A and MHC-B were purified from cells by immunoprecipitation with isoform-specific peptide antibodies followed by elution with their cognate peptides. Using an in vitro motility assay, we found that the velocity of movement of actin filaments by MHC-A was 3.3-fold faster than that by MHC-B. Likewise, the Vmax of the actin-activated Mg(2+)-ATPase activity of MHC-A was 2.6-fold greater than that of MHC-B. Immunofluorescence microscopy demonstrated distinct localizations for MHC-A and MHC-B. In interphase cells, MHC-B was present in the cell cortex and diffusely arranged in the cytoplasm. In highly polarized, rapidly migrating interphase cells, the lamellipodium was dramatically enriched for MHC-B suggesting a possible involvement of MHC-B based contractions in leading edge extension and/or retraction. In contrast, MHC-A was absent from the cell periphery and was arranged in a fibrillar staining pattern in the cytoplasm. The two myosin heavy chain isoforms also had distinct localizations throughout mitosis. During prophase, the MHC-B redistributed to the nuclear membrane, and then resumed its interphase localization by metaphase. MHC-A, while diffuse within the cytoplasm at all stages of mitosis, also localized to the mitotic spindle in two different cultured cell lines as well as in Xenopus blastomeres. During telophase both isoforms colocalized to the contractile ring. The different subcellular localizations of MHC-A and MHC-B, together with the data demonstrating that these myosins have markedly different enzymatic activities, strongly suggests that they have different functions.

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