A change in twist of actin provides the force for the extension of the acrosomal process in limulus sperm: The false-discharge reaction

David J. Derosier, Lewis G. Tilney, Edward M. Bonder, Phyllis Frankl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


One of the most spectacular motions is the generation of the acrosomal process in the Limulus sperm. On contact with the egg, the sperm generates a 60-µm-long process that literally drills its way through the jelly surrounding the egg. This irreversible reaction takes only a few seconds. We suggested earlier that this motion is driven by a change in twist of the actin filaments comprising the acrosomal process. In this paper we analyze the so-called false discharge, a reversible reaction, in which the acrosomal filament bundle extends laterally from the base of the sperm and not anteriorly from the apex. Unlike the true discharge, which is straight, the false discharge is helical. Before extension, the filament bundle is coiled about the base of the sperm. In the coil, the bundle is not smoothly bent but consists of arms (straight segments) and elbows (corners) so that the coil looks like a 14-sided polygon. The extension of the false discharge works as follows: Starting at the basal end of the bundle, the filaments change their twist which concomitantly changes the orientations of the elbows relative to each other; that is, in the coil, the elbows all lie in a common plane, but, after the change in twist, the plane of each elbow is rotated to be perpendicular to that of its neighbors. This change transforms the bundle from a compact coil into an extended left-handed helix. Because the basal end of the bundle is unconstrained, the extension is lateral. The true discharge works the same way but starts at the apical end of the bundle. The apical end, however, is constrained by its passage through the nuclear canal, which directs the extension anteriorly. Unlike the false discharge, during the true discharge the elbows are melted out, making the reaction irreversible. This study shows that rapid movement can be generated by actin without myosin and gives us insight into the molecular mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-337
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cell Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 1982
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology

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