Multiscale architecture: Mechanics of composite cytoskeletal networks


Lorenz C, Köster S


Biophysics Reviews


Biophysics Rev. 3, 031304 (2022)


Different types of biological cells respond differently to mechanical stresses, and these responses are mainly governed by the cytoskeleton. The main components of this biopolymer network are actin filaments, microtubules, and intermediate filaments, whose mechanical and dynamic properties are highly distinct, thus opening up a large mechanical parameter space. Aside from experiments on whole, living cells, “bottom-up” approaches, utilizing purified, reconstituted protein systems, tremendously help to shed light on the complex mechanics of cytoskeletal networks. Such experiments are relevant in at least three aspects: (i) from a fundamental point of view, cytoskeletal networks provide a perfect model system for polymer physics; (ii) in materials science and “synthetic cell” approaches, one goal is to fully understand properties of cellular materials and reconstitute them in synthetic systems; (iii) many diseases are associated with cell mechanics, so a thorough understanding of the underlying phenomena may help solving pressing biomedical questions. In this review, we discuss the work on networks consisting of one, two, or all three types of filaments, entangled or cross-linked, and consider active elements such as molecular motors and dynamically growing filaments. Interestingly, tuning the interactions among the different filament types results in emergent network properties. We discuss current experimental challenges, such as the comparability of different studies, and recent methodological advances concerning the quantification of attractive forces between filaments and their influence on network mechanics.