Living cells constitute an extraordinary state of matter since they are inherently out of thermal equilibrium due to internal metabolic processes. Indeed, measurements of particle motion in the cytoplasm of animal cells have revealed clear signatures of nonthermal fluctuations superposed on passive thermal motion. However, it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact molecular origin of this activity. Here, we employ time-resolved microrheology based on particle tracking to measure nonequilibrium fluctuations produced by myosin motor proteins in a minimal model system composed of purified actin filaments and myosin motors. We show that the motors generate spatially heterogeneous contractile fluctuations, which become less frequent with time as a consequence of motor-driven network remodeling. We analyze the particle tracking data on different length scales, combining particle image velocimetry, an ensemble analysis of the particle trajectories, and finally a kymograph analysis of individual particle trajectories to quantify the length and time scales associated with active particle displacements. All analyses show clear signatures of nonequilibrium activity: the particles exhibit random motion with an enhanced amplitude compared to passive samples, and they exhibit sporadic contractile fluctuations with ballistic motion over large (up to 30 μm) distances. This nonequilibrium activity diminishes with sample age, even though the adenosine triphosphate level is held constant. We propose that network coarsening concentrates motors in large clusters and depletes them from the network, thus reducing the occurrence of contractile fluctuations. Our data provide valuable insight into the physical processes underlying stress generation within motor-driven actin networks and the analysis framework may prove useful for future microrheology studies in cells and model organisms.

K.M. Taute (Katja)
New J. Phys.
Biological Soft Matter-Former Group

Soares e Silva, M., Stuhrmann, B., Betz, T., & Koenderink, G. (2014). Time-resolved microrheology of actively remodeling actomyosin networks. New J. Phys., 16(7, Article number: 75010), 1–21. doi:10.1088/1367-2630/16/7/075010