We examined ultrastructural changes in developing chicken intestinal microvilli and correlated these with changes in the G- to F-actin ratio and the amount of actin per milligram cell protein. Three discrete morphological and temporal changes occur during late microvillus morphogenesis: an increase in microvillus number associated with microvilli becoming hexagonally packed on the cell surface; an increase in core actin filament number; and an increase in the length of microvilli. Dramatic rises in the amount of cell actin occur at the time of the first two morphological changes. Changes in the G- to F-actin ratio suggest that increases in the level of monomeric actin drive the elongation phase of microvillus growth since immediately prior to growth the G- to F-actin ratio shifts from its embryonic and adult 3:7 ratio to a 1:1. Our results also indicate, but do not prove, that an increase in the amount of G-actin precedes the rise in level of F-actin and growth of microvilli by 1 day, implying that an increase in the content of G-actin stimulates actin polymerization. Our findings also suggest that the G- to F-actin ratio and their absolute amounts, perhaps in combination with cytoskeletal protein turnover and/or the pool size of actin binding proteins, plays a role in restricting the mature constant length of microvilli.
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