α-Actinin-4 plays an important role in coupling actin nucleation to assembly at cadherin-based cell–cell adhesive contacts.
We have developed an in vitro assay to study actin assembly at cadherin-enriched cell junctions. Using this assay, we demonstrate that cadherin-enriched junctions can polymerize new actin filaments but cannot capture preexisting filaments, suggesting a mechanism involving de novo synthesis. In agreement with this hypothesis, inhibition of Arp2/3-dependent nucleation abolished actin assembly at cell–cell junctions. Reconstitution biochemistry using the in vitro actin assembly assay identified α-actinin-4/focal segmental glomerulosclerosis 1 (FSGS1) as an essential factor. α-Actinin-4 specifically localized to sites of actin incorporation on purified membranes and at apical junctions in Madin–Darby canine kidney cells. Knockdown of α-actinin-4 decreased total junctional actin and inhibited actin assembly at the apical junction. Furthermore, a point mutation of α-actinin-4 (K255E) associated with FSGS failed to support actin assembly and acted as a dominant negative to disrupt actin dynamics at junctional complexes. These findings demonstrate that α-actinin-4 plays an important role in coupling actin nucleation to assembly at cadherin-based cell–cell adhesive contacts.