Human fibroblasts generate at least eight tropomyosin (TM) isoforms (hTM1, hTM2, hTM3, hTM4, hTM5, hTM5a, hTM5b, and hTMsm alpha) from four distinct genes, and we have previously demonstrated that bacterially produced chimera hTM5/3 exhibits an unusually high affinity for actin filaments and a loss of the salt dependence typical for TM-actin binding (Novy, R.E., J. R. Sellers, L.-F. Liu, and J.J.-C. Lin, 1993. Cell Motil. & Cytoskeleton. 26: 248-261). To examine the functional consequences of expressing this mutant TM isoform in vivo, we have transfected CHO cells with the full-length cDNA for hTM5/3 and compared them to cells transfected with hTM3 and hTM5. Immunofluorescence microscopy reveals that stably transfected CHO cells incorporate force-expressed hTM3 and hTM5 into stress fibers with no significant effect on general cell morphology, microfilament organization or cytokinesis. In stable lines expressing hTM5/3, however, cell division is slow and sometimes incomplete. The doubling time and the incidence of multinucleate cells in the stable hTM5/3 lines roughly parallel expression levels. A closely related chimeric isoform hTM5/2, which differs only in the internal, alternatively spliced exon also produces defects in cytokinesis, suggesting that normal TM function may involve coordination between the amino and carboxy terminal regions. This coordination may be prevented in the chimeric mutants. As bacterially produced hTM5/3 and hTM5/2 can displace hTM3 and hTM5 from actin filaments in vitro, it is likely that CHO-expressed hTM5/3 and hTM5/2 can displace endogenous TMs to act dominantly in vivo. These results support a role for nonmuscle TM isoforms in the fine tuning of microfilament organization during cytokinesis. Additionally, we find that overexpression of TM does not stabilize endogenous microfilaments, rather, the hTM-expressing cells are actually more sensitive to cytochalasin B. This suggests that regulation of microfilament integrity in vivo requires stabilizing factors other than, or in addition to, TM.