Background INF2 is a formin protein with the unique ability to accelerate both actin polymerization and depolymerization, the latter requiring filament severing. Mutations in INF2 lead to the kidney disease focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and the neurological disorder Charcot-Marie Tooth disease (CMTD). Results Here, we compare the severing mechanism of INF2 with that of the well-studied severing protein cofilin. INF2, like cofilin, binds stoichiometrically to filament sides and severs in a manner that requires phosphate release from the filament. In contrast to cofilin, however, INF2 binds ADP and ADP-Pifilaments equally well. Furthermore, two-color total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy reveals that a low number of INF2 molecules, as few as a single INF2 dimer, are capable of severing, while measurable cofilin-mediated severing requires more extensive binding. Hence, INF2 is a more potent severing protein than cofilin. While a construct containing the FH1 and FH2 domains alone has some severing activity, addition of the C-terminal region increases severing potency by 40-fold, and we show that the WH2-resembling DAD motif is responsible for this increase. Helical 3D reconstruction from electron micrographs at 20 Å resolution provides a structure of filament-bound INF2, showing that the FH2 domain encircles the filament. Conclusions We propose a severing model in which FH2 binding and phosphate release causes local filament deformation, allowing the DAD to bind adjacent actin protomers, further disrupting filament structure. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.