The actin bundles in Drosophila bristles run the length of the bristle cell and are accordingly 65 microns (microchaetes) or 400 microns (macrochaetes) in length, depending on the bristle type. Shortly after completion of bristle elongation in pupae, the actin bundles break down as the bristle surface becomes chitinized. The bundles break down in a bizarre way; it is as if each bundle is sawed transversely into pieces that average 3 microns in length. Disassembly of the actin filaments proceeds at the "sawed" surfaces. In all cases, the cuts in adjacent bundles appear in transverse register. From these images, we suspected that each actin bundle is made up of a series of shorter bundles or modules that are attached end-to-end. With fluorescent phalloidin staining and serial thin sections, we show that the modular design is present in nondegenerating bundles. Decoration of the actin filaments in adjacent bundles in the same bristle with subfragment 1 of myosin reveals that the actin filaments in every module have the same polarity. To study how modules form developmentally, we sectioned newly formed and elongating bristles. At the bristle tip are numerous tiny clusters of 6-10 filaments. These clusters become connected together more basally to form filament bundles that are poorly organized, initially, but with time become maximally cross-linked. Additional filaments are then added to the periphery of these organized bundle modules. All these observations make us aware of a new mechanism for the formation and elongation of actin filament bundles, one in which short bundles are assembled and attached end-to-end to other short bundles, as are the vertical girders between the floors of a skyscraper.
Growing the intracellular bridges that connect nurse cells with each o ther and to the developing oocyte is vital for egg development. These ring canals increase from 0.5 microns in diameter at stage 2 to 10 microns in diameter at stage 11. Thin sections cut horizontally as you would cut a bagel, show that there is a layer of circumferentially oriented actin filaments attached to the plasma membrane at the periphery of each canal. By decoration with subfragment 1 of myosin we find actin filaments of mixed polarities in the ring such as found in the "contractile ring" formed during cytokinesis. In vertical sections through the canal the actin filaments appear as dense dots. At stage 2 there are 82 actin filaments in the ring, by stage 6 there are 717 and by stage 10 there are 726. Taking into account the diameter, this indicates that there is 170 microns of actin filaments/canal at stage 2 (pi x 0.5 microns x 82), 14,000 microns at stage 9 and approximately 23,000 microns at stage 11 or one inch of actin filament! The density of actin filaments remains unchanged throughout development. What is particularly striking is that by stages 4-5, the ring of actin filaments has achieved its maximum thickness, even though the diameter has not yet increased significantly. Thereafter, the diameter increases. Throughout development, stages 2-11, the canal length also increases. Although the density (number of actin filaments/micron2) through a canal remains constant from stage 5 on, the actin filaments appear as a net of interconnected bundles. Further information on this net of bundles comes from studying mutant animals that lack kelch, a protein located in the ring canal that has homology to the actin binding protein, scruin. In this mutant, the actin filaments form normally but individual bundles that comprise the fibers of the net are not bound tightly together. Some bundles enter into the ring canal lumen but do not completely occlude the lumen. all these observations lay the groundwork for our understanding of how a noncontractile ring increases in thickness, diameter, and length during development.
Transverse sections though Drosophila bristles reveal 7-11 nearly round, plasma membrane-associated bundles of actin filaments. These filaments are hexagonally packed and in a longitudinal section they show a 12-nm periodicity in both the 1.1 and 1.0 views. From earlier studies this periodicity is attributable to cross-links and indicates that the filaments are maximally cross-linked, singed mutants also have 7-11 bundles, but the bundles are smaller, flattened, and the filaments within the bundles are randomly packed (not hexagonal); no periodicity can be detected in longitudinal sections. Another mutant, forked (f36a), also has 7-11 bundles but even though the bundles are very small, the filaments within them are hexagonally packed and display a 12-nm periodicity in longitudinal section. The singed-forked double mutant lacks filament bundles. Thus there are at least two species of cross-links between adjacent actin filaments. Hints of why two species of cross-links are necessary can be gleaned by studying bristle formation. Bristles sprout with only microtubules within them. A little later in development actin filaments appear. At early stages the filaments in the bundles are randomly packed. Later the filaments in the bundles become hexagonally packed and maximally cross-linked. We consider that the forked proteins may be necessary early in development to tie the filaments together in a bundle so that they can be subsequently zippered together by fascin (the singed gene product).