The WASP and cortactin families constitute two distinct classes of Arp2/3 modulators in mammalian cells. Physical and functional interactions among the Arp2/3 complex, VCA (a functional domain of N-WASP), and cortactin were examined under conditions that were with or without actin polymerization. In the absence of actin, cortactin binds significantly weaker to the Arp2/3 complex than VCA. At concentrations of VCA 20-fold lower than cortactin, the association of cortactin with the Arp2/3 complex was nearly abolished. Analysis of the cells infected with Shigella demonstrated that N-WASP located at the tip of the bacterium, whereas cortactin accumulated in the comet tail. Interestingly, cortactin promotes Arp2/3 complex-mediated actin polymerization and actin branching in the presence of VCA at a saturating concentration, and cortactin acquired 20 nM affinity for the Arp2/3 complex during actin polymerization. The interaction of VCA with the Arp2/3 complex was reduced in the presence of both cortactin and actin. Moreover, VCA reduced its affinity for Arp2/3 complex at branching sites that were stabilized by phalloidin. These data imply a novel mechanism for the de novo assembly of a branched actin network that involves a coordinated sequential interaction of N-WASP and cortactin with the Arp2/3 complex.
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