Cytoskeletal actin networks in motile cells are critically self-organized systems synchronized by mechanical interactions
PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF, 108, 13978 (2011)
Growing networks of actin fibers are able to organize into compact, stiff two-dimensional structures inside lamellipodia of crawling cells. We put forward the hypothesis that the growing actin network is a critically self-organized system, in which long-range mechanical stresses arising from the interaction with the plasma membrane provide the selective pressure leading to organization. We show that a simple model based only on this principle reproduces the stochastic nature of lamellipodia protrusion (growth periods alternating with fast retractions) and several of the features observed in experiments: a growth velocity initially insensitive to the external force; the capability of the network to organize its orientation; a load-history-dependent growth velocity. Our model predicts that the spectrum of the time series of the height of a growing lamellipodium decays with the inverse of the frequency. This behavior is a well-known signature of self-organized criticality and is confirmed by unique optical tweezer measurements performed in vivo on neuronal growth cones.