Date Published:NOV 9
Cross-linking proteins can mediate the emergence of rigid bundles from a dense branched network of actin filaments. To enable their binding, the filaments must first bend towards each other. We derive an explicit criterion for the onset of bundling, in terms of the initial length of filaments L, their spacing b, and cross-linker concentration f, reflecting the balance between bending and binding energies. Our model system contains actin, the branching complex Arp2/3 and the bundling protein fascin. In the first distinct stage, during which only actin and Arp2/3 are active, an entangled aster-like mesh of actin filaments is formed. Tens of seconds later, when filaments at the aster periphery are long and barely branched, a sharp transition takes place into a star-like structure, marking the onset of bundling. Now fascin and actin govern bundle growth; Arp2/3 plays no role. Using kinetic Monte Carlo simulations we calculate the temporal evolution of b and L, and predict the onset of bundling as a function of f. Our predictions are in good qualitative agreement with several new experiments that are reported herein and demonstrate how f controls the aster-star transition and bundle length. We also present two models for aster growth corresponding to different experimental realizations. The first treats filament and bundle association as an irreversible sequence of elongation-association steps. The second, applicable for low f, treats bundling as a reversible self-assembly process, where the optimal bundle size is dictated by the balance between surface and bending energies. Finally, we discuss the relevance of our conclusions for the lamellipodium to filopodia transition in living cells, noting that bundles are more likely nucleated by ``tip complex'' cross-linkers (e.g. mDia2 or Ena/VASP), whereas fascin is mainly involved in bundle maintenance.