MDC Lab Coats

Mechanical properties of branched actin filaments


  • M. Razbin
  • M. Falcke
  • P. Benetatos
  • A. Zippelius


  • Physical Biology


  • Phys Biol 12 (4): 046007


  • Cells moving on a two dimensional substrate generate motion by polymerizing actin filament networks inside a flat membrane protrusion. New filaments are generated by branching off existing ones, giving rise to branched network structures. We investigate the force-extension relation of branched filaments, grafted on an elastic structure at one end and pushing with the free ends against the leading edge cell membrane. Single filaments are modeled as worm-like chains, whose thermal bending fluctuations are restricted by the leading edge cell membrane, resulting in an effective force. Branching can increase the stiffness considerably; however the effect depends on branch point position and filament orientation, being most pronounced for intermediate tilt angles and intermediate branch point positions. We describe filament networks without cross-linkers to focus on the effect of branching. We use randomly positioned branch points, as generated in the process of treadmilling, and orientation distributions as measured in lamellipodia. These networks reproduce both the weak and strong force response of lamellipodia as measured in force-velocity experiments. We compare properties of branched and unbranched networks. The ratio of the network average of the force per branched filament to the average force per unbranched filament depends on the orientation distribution of the filaments. The ratio exhibits compression dependence and may go up to about 4.5 in networks with a narrow orientation distribution. With orientation distributions measured in lamellipodia, it is about two and essentially independent from network compression, graft elasticity and filament persistence length.