BACKGROUND: Formins are a conserved family of actin nucleators responsible for the assembly of diverse actin structures such as cytokinetic rings and filopodia. In the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, the formin for3p is necessary for the formation of actin cables, which are bundles of short parallel actin filaments that regulate cell polarity. These filaments are largely organized with their barbed ends facing the cell tip, where for3p is thought to function in their assembly. RESULTS: Here, using a functional for3p-3GFP fusion expressed at endogenous levels, we find that for3p localizes to small dots that appear transiently at cell tips and then move away on actin cables at a rate of 0.3 microm/s. These movements were dependent on the continuous assembly of actin in cables, on the ability of for3p to bind actin within its FH2 domain, and on profilin and bud6p, two formin binding proteins that promote formin activity. Bud6p transiently colocalizes with for3p at the cell tip and stays behind at the cell tip when for3p detaches. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest a new model for actin cable assembly: a for3p particle is activated and promotes the assembly of a short actin filament at the cell tip for only seconds. For3p and the actin filament may then be released from the cell tip and carried passively into the cell interior by retrograde flow of actin filaments in the cable. These studies reveal a complex and dynamic cycle of formin regulation and actin cable assembly in vivo.