Positive feedback loops involving signaling and actin assembly factors mediate the formation and remodeling of branched actin networks in processes ranging from cell and organelle motility to mechanosensation. The Arp2/3 complex inhibitor Arpin controls the directional persistence of cell migration by interrupting a feedback loop involving Rac-WAVE-Arp2/3 complex, but Arpin’s mechanism of inhibition is unknown. Here, we describe the cryo-EM structure of Arpin bound to Arp2/3 complex at 3.24-Å resolution. Unexpectedly, Arpin binds Arp2/3 complex similarly to WASP-family nucleation-promoting factors (NPFs) that activate the complex. However, whereas NPFs bind to two sites on Arp2/3 complex, on Arp2-ArpC1 and Arp3, Arpin only binds to the site on Arp3. Like NPFs, Arpin has a C-helix that binds at the barbed end of Arp3. Mutagenesis studies
and in cells reveal how sequence differences within this helix define the molecular basis for inhibition by Arpin vs. activation by NPFs.