Wild-type actin and a mutant actin were isolated from yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and the polymerization properties were examined at pH 8.0 and 20 degrees C. The polymerization reaction was followed either by an increase in pyrene-labeled actin fluorescence or by a decrease in intrinsic fluorescence in the absence of pyrene-labeled actin. While similar to the properties of skeletal muscle actin, there are several important differences between the wild-type yeast and muscle actins. First, yeast actin polymerizes more rapidly than muscle actin under the same experimental conditions. The difference in rates may result from a difference in the steps involving formation of the nucleating species. Second, as measured with pyrene-labeled yeast actin, but not with intrinsic fluorescence, there is an overshoot in the fluorescence that has not been observed with skeletal muscle actin under the same conditions. Third, in order to simulate the polymerization process of wild-type yeast actin it is necessary to assume some fragmentation of the filaments. Finally, gelsolin inhibits polymerization of yeast actin but is known to accelerate the polymerization of muscle actin. A mutant actin (R177A/D179A) has also been isolated and studied. The mutations are at a region of contact between monomers across the long axis of the actin filament. This mutant polymerizes more slowly than wild type and filaments do not appear to fragment during polymerization. Elongation rates of the wild type and the mutant differ by only about 3-fold, and the slower polymerization of the mutant appears to result primarily from poorer nucleation.