Actin is a family of globular proteins that are highly abundant in eukaryotic cells. It makes up approximately 1-5% of total cell protein concentration. Actin monomers polymerize to form a complex network of polarized filaments, the actin cytoskeleton, that plays a crucial role in many cellular processes, including cell motility, division, endocytosis, and metastasis of cancer cells.
Actin cytoskeleton dynamics can produce pushing, pulling, and resistance forces that help the cell to migrate. This is achieved by forming different types of membrane protrusions, depending on the cell type and the extracellular signals. Primarily, cells move by recurrent cycles of protrusion and attachment of the cell front to the substratum, followed by detachment and retraction at their rear end.
The human genome encodes six highly conserved actin proteins—ACTC1, ACTA1, ACTA2, ACTG1, ACTG2, and ACTB; all expressed in different cell types. Mutations in any of these six actin genes or the genes encoding actin-binding proteins can lead to disease. For example, mutations in the ACTA1 gene can lead to muscle weakness, especially in the respiratory muscles, which can cause breathing difficulties — a condition called Nemaline Myopathy. Similarly, mutations in the WAS gene, a key regulator of actin filament nucleation, which is important for cell adhesion, chemotaxis, and phagocytosis of immune cells, causes Wiskott Aldrich syndrome in humans.
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