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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Statistical mechanics of the cytoskeleton

  • Author(s): Wang, Shenshen
  • et al.

The mechanical integrity of eukaryotic cells along with their capability of dynamic remodeling depends on their cytoskeleton, a structural scaffold made up of a complex and dense network of filamentous proteins spanning the cytoplasm. Active force generation within the cytoskeletal networks by molecular motors is ultimately powered by the consumption of chemical energy and conversion of that energy into mechanical work. The resulting functional movements range from the collective cell migration in epithelial tissues responsible for wound healing to the changes of cell shape that occur during muscle contraction, as well as all the internal structural rearrangements essential for cell division. The role of the cytoskeleton as a dynamic versatile mesoscale "muscle", whose passive and active performance is both highly heterogeneous in space and time and intimately linked to diverse biological functions, allows it to serve as a sensitive indicator for the health and developmental state of the cell. By approaching this natural nonequilibrium many-body system from a variety of perspectives, researchers have made major progress toward understanding the cytoskeleton's unusual mechanical, dynamical and structural properties. Yet a unifying framework capable of capturing both the dynamics of active pattern formation and the emergence of spontaneous collective motion, that allows one to predict the dependence of the model's control parameters on motor properties, is still needed. In the following we construct a microscopic model and provide a theoretical framework to investigate the intricate interplay between local force generation, network architecture and collective motor action. This framework is able to accommodate both regular and heterogeneous pattern formation, as well as arrested coarsening and macroscopic contraction in a unified manner, through the notion of motor-driven effective interactions. Moreover a systematic expansion scheme combined with a variational stability analysis yields a threshold strength of motor kicking noise, below which the motorized system behaves as if it were at an effective equilibrium, but with a nontrivial effective temperature. Above the threshold, however, collective directed motion emerges spontaneously. Computer simulations support the theoretical predictions and highlight the essential role played in large-scale contraction by spatial correlation in motor kicking events

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