To fulfill the cytoskeleton’s diverse functions in cell mechanics and motility, actin networks with specialized architectures are built by crosslinking proteins, which bridge filaments to control micron-scale network geometry through nanoscale binding interactions via poorly defined structural mechanisms. Here, we introduce a machine-learning enabled cryo-EM pipeline for visualizing active crosslinkers, which we use to analyze human T-plastin, a member of the evolutionarily ancient plastin/fimbrin family of tandem calponin-homology domain (CHD) proteins. We define a sequential bundling mechanism which enables T-plastin to bridge filaments in both parallel and anti-parallel orientations. Our structural, biochemical, and cell biological data highlight inter-CHD linkers as key structural elements underlying flexible but stable crosslinking which are likely to be disrupted by mutations causing hereditary bone diseases. Beyond revealing how plastins are evolutionary optimized to crosslink dense actin networks with mixed polarity, our cryo-EM workflow will broadly enable analysis of the structural mechanisms underlying cytoskeletal network construction.
One sentence summary
Cryo-EM, biochemical, and cellular studies reveal how the crosslinking protein T-plastin bridges actin filaments in two opposing orientations.