Incubation of the isolated acrosomal bundles of Limulus sperm with skeletal muscle actin results in assembly of actin onto both ends of the bundles. Because of the taper of these cross-linked bundles of actin filaments, one can distinguish directly the preferred end for assembly from the nonpreferred end. Loss of growth with time from the nonpreferred end was directly assessed by electron microscopy and found to be dependent upon salt concentration. Under physiological conditions (100 mM KCl, 1 mM MgCl2) and excess ATP (0.5 mM), depolymerization of the newly assembled actin filaments at the nonpreferred end over an 8-h period was 0.024 micron/h. Thus, even after 8 h, 63% of the bundles retained significant growth on their nonpreferred ends, the average length being 0.21 micron +/- 0.04. However, in the presence of 1.2 mM CaCl2, disassembly of actin monomers from the nonpreferred end increased substantially. By 8 h, only 7% of the bundles retained any actin growth on the nonpreferred ends, and the depolymerization rate off the nonpreferred end was 0.087 micron/h. From these results we conclude that, in the absence of other cellular factors, disassembly of actin subunits from actin filaments (subunit exchange) is too slow to influence most of the motile events that occur in cells. We discuss how this relates to treadmilling.

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