Nat Commun 13 (1) 3442 [2022-06-15; online 2022-06-15]
Actin polymerization generates forces for cellular processes throughout the eukaryotic kingdom, but our understanding of the 'ancient' actin turnover machineries is limited. We show that, despite > 1 billion years of evolution, pathogenic Leishmania major parasite and mammalian actins share the same overall fold and co-polymerize with each other. Interestingly, Leishmania harbors a simple actin-regulatory machinery that lacks cofilin 'cofactors', which accelerate filament disassembly in higher eukaryotes. By applying single-filament biochemistry we discovered that, compared to mammalian proteins, Leishmania actin filaments depolymerize more rapidly from both ends, and are severed > 100-fold more efficiently by cofilin. Our high-resolution cryo-EM structures of Leishmania ADP-, ADP-Pi- and cofilin-actin filaments identify specific features at actin subunit interfaces and cofilin-actin interactions that explain the unusually rapid dynamics of parasite actin filaments. Our findings reveal how divergent parasites achieve rapid actin dynamics using a remarkably simple set of actin-binding proteins, and elucidate evolution of the actin cytoskeleton.