Molecular dynamics simulations support a multistep pathway for activation of branched actin filament nucleation by Arp2/3 complex

Yuvraj Singh, Glen M. Hocky, Brad J. Nolen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Actin-related protein 2/3 complex (Arp2/3 complex) catalyzes the nucleation of branched actin filaments that push against membranes in processes like cellular motility and endocytosis. During activation by WASP proteins, the complex must bind WASP and engage the side of a pre-existing (mother) filament before a branched filament is nucleated. Recent high-resolution structures of activated Arp2/3 complex revealed two major sets of activating conformational changes. How these activating conformational changes are triggered by interactions of Arp2/3 complex with actin filaments and WASP remains unclear. Here we use a recent high-resolution structure of Arp2/3 complex at a branch junction to design all-atom molecular dynamics simulations that elucidate the pathway between the active and inactive states. We ran a total of ∼4.6 microseconds of both unbiased and steered all-atom molecular dynamics simulations starting from three different binding states, including Arp2/3 complex within a branch junction, bound only to a mother filament, and alone in solution. These simulations indicate that the contacts with the mother filament are mostly insensitive to the massive rigid body motion that moves Arp2 and Arp3 into a short pitch helical (filament-like) arrangement, suggesting actin filaments alone do not stimulate the short pitch conformational change. In contrast, contacts with the mother filament stabilize subunit flattening in Arp3, an intrasubunit change that converts Arp3 from a conformation that mimics an actin monomer to one that mimics a filamentous actin subunit. Our results support a multistep activation pathway that has important implications for understanding how WASP-mediated activation allows Arp2/3 complex to assemble force-producing actin networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105169
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Arp2/3 complex
  • WASP
  • actin
  • molecular dynamics
  • nucleation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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