Thyone sperm were demembranated with Triton X-100 and, after washing, extracted with 30 mM Tris at pH 8.0 and 1 mM MgCl2. After the insoluble contaminants were removed by centrifugation, the sperm extract was warmed to 22 degrees C. Actin filaments rapidly assembled and aggregated into bundles when KCl was added to the extract. When we added preformed actin filaments, i.e., the acrosomal filament bundles of Limulus sperm, to the extract, the actin monomers rapidly assembled on these filaments. What was unexpected was that assembly took place on only one end of the bundle--the end corresponding to the preferred end for monomer addition. We showed that the absence of growth on the nonpreferred end was not due to the presence of a capper because exogenously added actin readily assembled on both ends. We also analyzed the sperm extract by SDS gel electrophoresis. Two major proteins were present in a 1:1 molar ratio: actin and a 12,500-dalton protein whose apparent isoelectric point was 8.4. The 12,500-dalton protein was purified by DEAE chromatography. We concluded that it is profilin because of its size, isoelectric point, molar ratio to actin, inability to bind to DEAE, and its effect on actin assembly. When profilin was added to actin in the presence of Limulus bundles, addition of monomers on the nonpreferred end of the bundle was inhibited, even though actin by itself assembled on both ends. Using the Limulus bundles as nuclei, we determined the critical concentration for assembly off each end of the filament and estimated the Kd for the profilin-actin complex (approximately 10 microM). We present a model to explain how profilin may regulate the extension of the Thyone acrosomal process in vivo: The profilin-actin complex can add to only the preferred end of the filament bundle. Once the actin monomer is bound to the filament, the profilin is released, and is available to bind to additional actin monomers. This mechanism accounts for the rapid rate of filament elongation in the acrosomal process in vivo.

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