Triggering Cation-Induced Contraction of Cytoskeleton Networks via Microfluidics

Shea N. Ricketts, Pawan Khanal, Michael J. Rust, Moumita Das, Jennifer L. Ross, Rae M. Robertson-Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The dynamic morphology and mechanics of the cytoskeleton is determined by interacting networks of semiflexible actin filaments and rigid microtubules. Active rearrangement of networks of actin and microtubules can not only be driven by motor proteins but by changes to ionic conditions. For example, high concentrations of multivalent ions can induce bundling and crosslinking of both filaments. Yet, how cytoskeleton networks respond in real-time to changing ion concentrations, and how actin-microtubule interactions impact network response to these changing conditions remains unknown. Here, we use microfluidic perfusion chambers and two-color confocal fluorescence microscopy to show that increasing magnesium ions trigger contraction of both actin and actin-microtubule networks. Specifically, we use microfluidics to vary the Mg2+ concentration between 2 and 20 mM while simultaneously visualizing the triggered changes to the overall network size. We find that as Mg2+ concentration increases both actin and actin-microtubule networks undergo bulk contraction, which we measure as the shrinking width of each network. However, surprisingly, lowering the Mg2+concentration back to 2 mM does not stop or reverse the contraction but rather causes both networks to contract further. Further, actin networks begin to contract at lower Mg2+ concentrations and shorter times than actin-microtubule networks. In fact, actin-microtubule networks only undergo substantial contraction once the Mg2+ concentration begins to lower from 20 mM back to 2 mM. Our intriguing findings shed new light on how varying environmental conditions can dynamically tune the morphology of cytoskeleton networks and trigger active contraction without the use of motor proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number596699
JournalFrontiers in Physics
StatePublished - Nov 9 2020


  • actin
  • cytoskeleton
  • microfluidics
  • microscopy
  • microtubules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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