ActuAtor, a molecular tool for generating force in living cells: Controlled deformation of intracellular structures.
Abstract: Mechanical force underlies fundamental cell functions such as division, migration and differentiation. While physical probes and devices revealed cellular mechano-responses, how force is translated inside cells to exert output functions remains largely unknown, due to the limited techniques to manipulate force intracellularly. By engineering an ActA protein, an actin nucleation promoting factor derived from Listeria monocytogenes, and implementing this in protein dimerization paradigms, we developed a molecular tool termed ActuAtor, with which actin polymerization can be triggered at intended subcellular locations to generate constrictive force in a rapidly inducible manner. The ActuAtor operation led to striking deformation of target intracellular structures including mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, nucleus, and non-membrane-bound RNA granules. Based on functional analysis before and after organelle deformation, we found the form-function relationship of mitochondria to be generally marginal. The modular design and genetically-encoded nature enable wide applications of ActuAtor for studies of intracellular mechanobiology processes.