Impact of branching on the elasticity of actin networks.

Pujol, T., du Roure, O., Fermigier, M., and Heuvingh, J.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012, 109(26), 10364–10369.

Chain of magnetic colloids (top, bright field). An actin network (bottom, fluorescent image) has grown from the colloids that have been covered by the activator of Arp2/3 machinery. Magnetic field is horizontal. Bead diameter is 4.4 µm.

Chain of magnetic colloids (top, bright field). An actin network (bottom, fluorescent image) has grown from the colloids that have been covered by the activator of Arp2/3 machinery. Magnetic field is horizontal. Bead diameter is 4.4 µm.

Actin filaments play a fundamental role in cell mechanics: assembled into networks by a large number of partners, they ensure cell integrity, deformability, and migration. Here we focus on the mechanics of the dense branched network found at the leading edge of a crawling cell. We develop a new technique based on the dipolar attraction between magnetic colloids to measure mechanical properties of branched actin gels assembled around the colloids. This technique allows us to probe a large number of gels and, through the study of different networks, to access fundamental relationships between their microscopic structure and their mechanical properties. We show that the architecture does regulate the elasticity of the network: increasing both capping and branching concentrations strongly stiffens the networks. These effects occur at protein concentrations that can be regulated by the cell. In addition, the dependence of the elastic modulus on the filaments’ flexibility and on increasing internal stress has been studied. Our overall results point toward an elastic regime dominated by enthalpic rather than entropic deformations. This result strongly differs from the elasticity of diluted cross-linked actin networks and can be explained by the dense dendritic structure of lamellipodium-like networks.

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