Cations Stiffen Actin Filaments by Adhering a Key Structural Element to Adjacent Subunits

Glen M. Hocky, Joseph L. Baker, Michael J. Bradley, Anton V. Sinitskiy, Enrique M. De La Cruz, Gregory A. Voth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ions regulate the assembly and mechanical properties of actin filaments. Recent work using structural bioinformatics and site-specific mutagenesis favors the existence of two discrete and specific divalent cation binding sites on actin filaments, positioned in the long axis between actin subunits. Cation binding at one site drives polymerization, while the other modulates filament stiffness and plays a role in filament severing by the regulatory protein, cofilin. Existing structural methods have not been able to resolve filament-associated cations, and so in this work we turn to molecular dynamics simulations to suggest a candidate binding pocket geometry for each site and to elucidate the mechanism by which occupancy of the "stiffness site" affects filament mechanical properties. Incorporating a magnesium ion in the "polymerization site" does not seem to require any large-scale change to an actin subunits conformation. Binding of a magnesium ion in the "stiffness site" adheres the actin DNase-binding loop (D-loop) to its long-axis neighbor, which increases the filament torsional stiffness and bending persistence length. Our analysis shows that bound D-loops occupy a smaller region of accessible conformational space. Cation occupancy buries key conserved residues of the D-loop, restricting accessibility to regulatory proteins and enzymes that target these amino acids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4558-4567
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 26 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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