The cytoskeleton precisely tunes its mechanics by altering interactions between semiflexible actin filaments, rigid microtubules, and crosslinking proteins. We use optical tweezers microrheology and confocal microscopy to characterize how varying crosslinking motifs impact the mesoscale mechanics and mobility of actin-microtubule composites. We show that, upon subtle changes in crosslinking patterns, composites can exhibit two distinct classes of force response – primarily elastic versus more viscous. For example, a composite in which actin and microtubules are crosslinked to each other but not to themselves is markedly more elastic than one in which both filaments are independently crosslinked. Notably, this distinction only emerges at mesoscopic scales in response to nonlinear forcing, whereas varying crosslinking motifs have little impact on the microscale mechanics and mobility. Our unexpected scale-dependent results not only inform the physics underlying key cytoskeleton processes and structures, but, more generally, provide valuable perspective to materials engineering endeavors focused on polymer composites.
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