The actin cytoskeleton is essential for cell shape and migration, and is implicated in illnesses including cancer and various infectious diseases. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms that regulate actin dynamics at the cell cortex to control shape and migration, how actin dynamics are coupled with force generation, and how the mechanisms of actin regulation differ in cells such as fibroblasts and neurons, are not well understood. Actin is also present in the nucleus, where it participates in nuclear shape, transcription, chromatin movement and chromatin remodeling. However, it is poorly understood how the nuclear-cytosolic distribution of cytoskeletal proteins is regulated, whether actin acts as a monomer or polymer in the nucleus, and how it performs its nuclear functions. We will test the overall hypothesis that the Arp2/3 complex and its nucleation promoting factors (NPFs), key regulators of actin nucleation and organization, play important roles in regulating both cytoplasmic and nuclear functions of actin. We will answer three important questions. How does the Arp2/3 catalytic cycle contribute to cell migration in fibroblasts and neurite outgrowth in neurons? How do NPFs influence actin polymerization at the cell cortex, or transcription in the nucleus, to control neurite formation and differentiation of neurons? How are the nuclear-cytosolic distributions of Arp2/3 and actin regulated, and what nuclear functions do they perform? We propose the following aims: (1) We will determine the role of the Arp2/3 catalytic cycle in cell migration and shape by combining biochemical and biophysical approaches to elucidate how Arp2/3 acts in actin dynamics and force generation in vitro, with cell biological approaches to elucidate Arp2/3 functions in fibroblasts and neurons. These studies will reveal how Arp2/3 contributes to cortical actin dynamics in shape and migration of different cell types. (2) We will examine the regulation of an NPF called JMY and its function in neurons, testing the hypotheses that it negatively regulates neurite formation by directly impacting cortical actin and/or by modulating transcription during neuronal differentiation. These studies will reveal new features of NPF regulation, and new roles for NPFs in regulating cortical and nuclear actin to control cell shape and differentiation. (3) We will use the baculovirus AcMNPV as a tool to study nuclear actin regulation and function. We will examine how AcMNPV induces nuclear actin accumulation by manipulating nuclear transport pathways, and whether nuclear actin regulates viral and host transcription. We will also test the hypotheses that nuclear actin organizes viral replication structures and drives viral motility and egress from the nucleus. These studies will reveal new functions for nuclear actin. Because we will uncover basic mechanisms of actin regulation in cell shape, migration and differentiation, and roles for nuclear actin in normal and infected cells, our studies may result in new approaches for diagnosing and treating disease.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed work seeks to answer important outstanding questions about the function and regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, a cellular system that plays a critical role in processes including cell shape, migration, division, and intracellular membrane transport. The actin cytoskeleton is also a crucial contributor to pathogenesis, for example in inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer metastasis, and microbial infection. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms that regulate the functions of the actin cytoskeleton may lead to new approaches for diagnosing and treating human disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Nuclear and Cytoplasmic Structure/Function and Dynamics Study Section (NCSD)
Program Officer
Gindhart, Joseph G
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Ohkawa, Taro; Welch, Matthew D (2018) Baculovirus Actin-Based Motility Drives Nuclear Envelope Disruption and Nuclear Egress. Curr Biol 28:2153-2159.e4
Hepp, Susan E; Borgo, Gina M; Ticau, Simina et al. (2018) Baculovirus AC102 Is a Nucleocapsid Protein That Is Crucial for Nuclear Actin Polymerization and Nucleocapsid Morphogenesis. J Virol 92:
Lamason, Rebecca L; Welch, Matthew D (2017) Actin-based motility and cell-to-cell spread of bacterial pathogens. Curr Opin Microbiol 35:48-57
Russo, Ashley J; Mathiowetz, Alyssa J; Hong, Steven et al. (2016) Rab1 recruits WHAMM during membrane remodeling but limits actin nucleation. Mol Biol Cell 27:967-78
Welch, Matthew D (2015) Cell migration, freshly squeezed. Cell 160:581-582
Welch, Matthew D (2015) Why should cell biologists study microbial pathogens? Mol Biol Cell 26:4295-301
Benanti, Erin L; Nguyen, Catherine M; Welch, Matthew D (2015) Virulent Burkholderia species mimic host actin polymerases to drive actin-based motility. Cell 161:348-60
Welch, Matthew D; Way, Michael (2013) Arp2/3-mediated actin-based motility: a tail of pathogen abuse. Cell Host Microbe 14:242-55
Duleh, Steve N; Welch, Matthew D (2012) Regulation of integrin trafficking, cell adhesion, and cell migration by WASH and the Arp2/3 complex. Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 69:1047-58
Gandhi, Kamal M; Ohkawa, Taro; Welch, Matthew D et al. (2012) Nuclear localization of actin requires AC102 in Autographa californica multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus-infected cells. J Gen Virol 93:1795-803

Showing the most recent 10 out of 37 publications