α-Actinins are a major class of actin filament cross-linking proteins expressed in virtually all cells. In muscle, actinins cross-link thin filaments from adjacent sarcomeres. In non-muscle cells, different actinin isoforms play analogous roles in cross-linking actin filaments and anchoring them to structures such as cell–cell and cell–matrix junctions. Although actinins have long been known to play roles in cytokinesis, cell adhesion and cell migration, recent studies have provided further mechanistic insights into these functions. Roles for actinins in synaptic plasticity and membrane trafficking events have emerged more recently, as has a ‘non-canonical’ function for actinins in transcriptional regulation in the nucleus. In the present paper we review recent advances in our understanding of these diverse cell biological functions of actinins in non-muscle cells, as well as their roles in cancer and in genetic disorders affecting platelet and kidney physiology. We also make two proposals with regard to the actinin nomenclature. First, we argue that naming actinin isoforms according to their expression patterns is problematic and we suggest a more precise nomenclature system. Secondly, we suggest that the α in α-actinin is superfluous and can be omitted.

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