Microfilaments were isolated from cultured mammalian cells, utilizing procedures similar to those for isolation of "native" thin filaments from muscle. Isolated microfilaments from rat embryo, baby hamster kidney (BHK- 21), and Swiss mouse 3T3 cells appeared structurally similar to muscle thin filaments, exhibiting long, 6 nm Diam profiles with a beaded, helical substructure. An arrowhead pattern was observed after reaction of isolated microfilaments with rabbit skeletal muscle myosin subfragment 1. Under appropriate conditions, isolated microfilaments will aggregate into a form that resembles microfilament bundles seen in situ cultured cells.
Isolated microfilaments represent a complex of proteins including actin. Some of these components have been tentatively identified, based on coelectrophoresis with purified proteins, as myosin, tropomyosin, and a high molecular weight actin-binding protein.
The tropomyosin components of isolated microfilaments were unexpected; polypeptides comigrated on SDS-polyacrylamide gels with both muscle and nonmuscle types of tropomyosin. In order to identify more specifically these subunits, we isolated and partially characterized tropomyosin from three cell types. BHK-21 cell tropomyosin was similar to other nonmuscle tropomyosins, as judged by several criteria. However, tropomyosin isolated from rate embryo and 3T3 cells contained subunits that comigrated with both skeletal muscle and nonmuscle types of myosin, whereas the BHK cell protein consistently contained a minor muscle-like subunit. The array of tropomyosin subunits present in a cell culture was reflected in the polypeptide chain pattern seen on SDS-polyacrylamide gels of microfilaments isolated from that culture. These studies provide a starting point for correlating changes in the ultrastructural organization of microfilaments with alterations in their protein composition.