Intracellular softening and increased viscoelastic fluidity during division


Hurst S, Vos BE, Brandt M, Betz T


Nature Physics


Nat. Phys. (2021).


The life and death of an organism rely on correct cell division, which occurs through the process of mitosis. Although the biochemical signalling and morphogenetic processes during mitosis are well understood, the importance of mechanical forces and material properties is only just starting to be discovered. Recent studies have revealed that the layer of proteins beneath the cell membrane—the so-called cell cortex—stiffens during mitosis, but it is as yet unclear whether mechanical changes occur in the rest of the material in the cell, contained in the cytoplasm. Here we show that, in contrast to the cortical stiffening, the interior of the cell undergoes a softening and an increase in dissipative timescale, similar to viscoelastic relaxation. These mechanical changes are accompanied by a decrease in the active forces that drive particle mobility. Using optical tweezers to perform microrheology measurements, we capture the complex active and passive material states of the cytoplasm using six relevant parameters, of which only two vary considerably during mitosis. We demonstrate a role switch between microtubules and actin that could contribute to the observed softening.