The neurofibromatosis 2 protein product merlin, named for its relatedness to the ezrin, radixin and moesin (ERM) family of proteins, is a tumour suppressor whose absence results in the occurrence of multiple tumours of the nervous system, particularly schwannomas and meningiomas. Merlin's similarity to ERMs suggests that it might share functions, acting as a link between cytoskeletal components and the cell membrane. The N-terminus of merlin has strong sequence identity to the N-terminal actin-binding region of ezrin; here we describe in detail the merlin–actin interaction. Employing standard actin co-sedimentation assays, we have determined that merlin isoform 2 binds F-actin with an apparent binding constant of 3.6μM and a stoichiometry of 1mol of merlin per 11.5mol of actin in filaments at saturation. Further, solid-phase binding assays reveal that merlin isoforms 1 and 2 bind actin filaments differentially, suggesting that the intramolecular interactions in isoform 1 might hinder its ability to bind actin. However, merlin does not bind G-actin. Studies of actin filament dynamics show that merlin slows filament disassembly with no influence on the assembly rate, indicating that merlin binds along actin filament lengths. This conclusion is supported by electron microscopy, which demonstrates that merlin binds periodically along cytoskeletal actin filaments. Comparison of these findings with those reported for ERM proteins reveal a distinct role for merlin in actin filament dynamics.

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