In this paper we describe an experimental investigation of the mechanism of motility of vertebrate cells. Human glioma cells were treated with neomycin, an inhibitor of the phosphatidylinositol cycle; and changes in cell motility and the cytoskeleton were examined by video, fluorescence, and scanning electron microscopy and by cytofluorometry. Neomycin stimulates a single protrusion of lamellipodia from the cell margin, which is correlated with an initial rapid decrease in the amount of F-actin throughout the cell, especially at the cell edge; the fragmentation of actin filaments within the lamellipodia; and the subsequent de novo polymerization of F-actin in a marginal band at the leading edge of lamellipodia. Changes in F-actin are paralleled by changes in the distribution and amount of gelsolin. These results support the hypothesis that protrusion is initiated by the gelsolin-mediated severing and subsequent depolymerization of cortical actin filaments, which weakens the cell cortex, allowing hydrostatic or gel osmotic pressure to force the cell margin to protrude. The accompanying polymerization of filaments actin at the leading edge of the protrusion may stabilize the protrusion and support its expansion.