Rapid polymerization of actin filament barbed ends generates protrusive forces at the cell edge, leading to cell migration. Two important regulators of free barbed ends, cofilin and Arp2/3, have been shown to work in synergy (net effect greater than additive). To explore this synergy, we model the dynamics of F-actin at the leading edge, motivated by data from EGF-stimulated mammary carcinoma cells. We study how synergy depends on the localized rates and relative timing of cofilin and Arp2/3 activation at the cell edge. The model incorporates diffusion of cofilin, membrane protrusion, F-actin capping, aging, and severing by cofilin and branch nucleation by Arp2/3 (but not G-actin recycling). In a well-mixed system, cofilin and Arp2/3 can each generate a large pulse of barbed ends on their own, but have little synergy; high synergy occurs only at low activation rates, when few barbed ends are produced. In the full spatially distributed model, both synergy and barbed-end production are significant over a range of activation rates. Furthermore, barbed-end production is greatest when Arp2/3 activation is delayed relative to cofilin. Our model supports a direct role for cofilin-mediated actin polymerization in stimulated cell migration, including chemotaxis and cancer invasion.
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