Blebbistatin is a small molecule inhibitor discovered in a screen for inhibitors of nonmuscle myosin IIA. We have examined the specificity and potency of the drug by assaying its effects on the actin-activated MgATPase assay of diverse members of the myosin superfamily. Blebbistatin potently inhibits several striated muscle myosins as well as vertebrate nonmuscle myosin IIA and IIB with IC50 values ranging from 0.5 to 5 microM. Interestingly, smooth muscle, which is highly homologous to vertebrate nonmuscle myosin, is only poorly inhibited (IC50=80 microM). The drug potently inhibits Dictyostelium myosin II, but poorly inhibits Acanthamoeba myosin II. Blebbistatin did not inhibit representative myosin superfamily members from classes I, V, and X. In cells, blebbistatin has been shown to inhibit contraction of the cytokinetic ring. Blebbistatin has some photochemical properties that may affect its behavior in cells. In particular, we have found that exposure to light at wavelengths below 488 nm rapidly inactivates the inhibitory action of blebbistatin using the in vitro motility of myosin as an assay. In addition, the inhibition of cytokinetic ring contraction can be reversed by exposure of the cells to blue light. This property may be useful in locally reversing the action of blebbistatin treatment in a cell. However, caution should be exercised as free radicals may be produced upon irradiation of blebbistatin that could result in cell damage. We conducted a detailed investigation of blebbistatin?s mechanism of inhibition. Blebbistatin does not compete with nucleotide binding to the skeletal muscle myosin subfragment-1. The inhibitor preferentially binds to the ATPase intermediate with ADP and phosphate bound at the active site, and it slows down phosphate release. Blebbistatin interferes neither with binding of myosin to actin nor with ATP-induced actomyosin dissociation. Instead, it blocks the myosin heads in a product complex with low actin affinity. Blind docking molecular simulations indicate that the productive blebbistatin-binding site of the myosin head is within the aqueous cavity between the nucleotide pocket and the cleft of the actin-binding interface. The property that blebbistatin blocks myosin II in an actin-detached state makes the compound useful both in muscle physiology and in exploring the cellular function of cytoplasmic myosin II isoforms, whereas the stabilization of a specific myosin intermediate confers a great potential in structural studies.
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