Insights into Actin Polymerization and Nucleation Using a Coarse-Grained Model

BG Horan and AR Hall and D Vavylonis, BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL, 119, 553-566 (2020).

DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2020.06.019

We studied actin filament polymerization and nucleation with molecular dynamics simulations and a previously established coarse-grained model having each residue represented by a single interaction site located at the C, atom. We approximate each actin protein as a fully or partially rigid unit to identify the equilibrium structural ensemble of interprotein complexes. Monomers in the F-actin configuration bound to both barbed and pointed ends of a short F-actin filament at the anticipated locations for polymerization. Binding at both ends occurred with similar affinity. Contacts between residues of the incoming subunit and the short filament were consistent with expectation from models based on crystallography, x-ray diffraction, and cryo-electron microscopy. Binding at the barbed and pointed end also occurred at an angle with respect to the polymerizable bound structure, and the angle range depended on the flexibility of the D-loop. Additional barbed end bound states were seen when the incoming subunit was in the G-actin form. Consistent with an activation barrier for pointed end polymerization, G-actin did not bind at an F-actin pointed end. In all cases, binding at the barbed end also occurred in a configuration similar to the antiparallel (lower) dimer. Individual monomers bound each other in a short-pitch helix complex in addition to other configurations, with several of them apparently nonproductive for polymerization. Simulations with multiple monomers in the F-actin form show assembly into filaments as well as transient aggregates at the barbed end. We discuss the implications of these observations on the kinetic pathway of actin filament nucleation and polymerization and possibilities for future improvements of the coarse-grained model.

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