Issue 43, 2021

Active gels, heavy tails, and the cytoskeleton

Abstract

The eukaryotic cell's cytoskeleton is a prototypical example of an active material: objects embedded within it are driven by molecular motors acting on the cytoskeleton, leading to anomalous diffusive behavior. Experiments tracking the behavior of cell-attached objects have observed anomalous diffusion with a distribution of displacements that is non-Gaussian, with heavy tails. This has been attributed to “cytoquakes” or other spatially extended collective effects. We show, using simulations and analytical theory, that a simple continuum active gel model driven by fluctuating force dipoles naturally creates heavy power-law tails in cytoskeletal displacements. We predict that this power law exponent should depend on the geometry and dimensionality of where force dipoles are distributed through the cell; we find qualitatively different results for force dipoles in a 3D cytoskeleton and a quasi-two-dimensional cortex. We then discuss potential applications of this model both in cells and in synthetic active gels.

Graphical abstract: Active gels, heavy tails, and the cytoskeleton

Article information

Article type
Paper
Submitted
12 May 2021
Accepted
15 Sep 2021
First published
24 Sep 2021

Soft Matter, 2021,17, 9876-9892

Active gels, heavy tails, and the cytoskeleton

D. W. Swartz and B. A. Camley, Soft Matter, 2021, 17, 9876 DOI: 10.1039/D1SM00705J

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