Substrate stiffness tunes the dynamics of polyvalent rolling motors†
Nature has evolved many mechanisms for achieving directed motion on the subcellular level. The burnt-bridges ratchet (BBR) is one mechanism used to achieve superdiffusive molecular motion over long distances through the successive cleavage of surface-bound energy-rich substrate sites. This mechanism has been associated with both nanoscale and microscale movement, with the latter accomplished through polyvalent interactions between a large hub (e.g. influenza virus) and substrate (e.g. cell surface receptors). Experimental successes in achieving superdiffusive motion by synthetic polyvalent BBRs have raised questions about the dynamics of their motility, including whether rolling or translation is better able to direct motion of microscale spherical hubs. Here we simulate the three-dimensional dynamics of a polyvalent sphere moving on and cleaving an elastic substrate. We find that substrate stiffness plays an important role in controlling both the motor's mode of motility and its directional persistence. As we tune lateral substrate stiffness from soft to stiff we find there exists an intermediate value that optimizes rolling behaviour. We also find that there is an optimal substrate stiffness for maximizing persistence length, while stiffness does not influence as strongly the superdiffusive dynamics of the particle. Lastly, we examine the effect of substrate density, and show that softer landscapes are better able to buffer against decreases in substrate occupancy, with the spherical motor maintaining superdiffusive motion more on softer landscapes than on stiff landscapes as occupancy drops. Our results highlight the importance of surface in controlling the motion of polyvalent BBRs.