Co-Entangled Actin-Microtubule Composites Exhibit Tunable Stiffness and Power-Law Stress Relaxation

Shea N. Ricketts, Jennifer L. Ross, Rae M. Robertson-Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


We use optical tweezers microrheology and fluorescence microscopy to characterize the nonlinear mesoscale mechanics and mobility of in vitro co-entangled actin-microtubule composites. We create a suite of randomly oriented, well-mixed networks of actin and microtubules by co-polymerizing varying ratios of actin and tubulin in situ. To perturb each composite far from equilibrium, we use optical tweezers to displace an embedded microsphere a distance greater than the lengths of the filaments at a speed much faster than their intrinsic relaxation rates. We simultaneously measure the force the filaments exert on the bead and the subsequent force relaxation. We find that the presence of a large fraction of microtubules (>0.7) is needed to substantially increase the measured force, which is accompanied by large heterogeneities in force response. Actin minimizes these heterogeneities by reducing the mesh size of the composites and supporting microtubules against buckling. Composites also undergo a sharp transition from strain softening to stiffening when the fraction of microtubules (ϕT) exceeds 0.5, which we show arises from faster poroelastic relaxation and suppressed actin bending fluctuations. The force after bead displacement relaxes via power-law decay after an initial period of minimal relaxation. The short-time relaxation profiles (t < 0.06 s) arise from poroelastic and bending contributions, whereas the long-time power-law relaxation is indicative of filaments reptating out of deformed entanglement constraints. The scaling exponents for the long-time relaxation exhibit a nonmonotonic dependence on ϕT, reaching a maximum for equimolar composites (ϕT = 0.5), suggesting that reptation is fastest in ϕT = 0.5 composites. Corresponding mobility measurements of steady-state actin and microtubules show that both filaments are indeed the most mobile in ϕT = 0.5 composites. This nonmonotonic dependence of mobility on ϕT demonstrates the important interplay between mesh size and filament rigidity in polymer networks and highlights the surprising emergent properties that can arise in composites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1055-1067
Number of pages13
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 18 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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