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Multiscale Modeling of the Nanomechanics of Microtubule Protofilaments

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journal contribution
posted on 26.07.2012, 00:00 by Kelly E. Theisen, Artem Zhmurov, Maycee E. Newberry, Valeri Barsegov, Ruxandra I. Dima
Large-size biomolecular systems that spontaneously assemble, disassemble, and self-repair by controlled inputs play fundamental roles in biology. Microtubules (MTs), which play important roles in cell adhesion and cell division, are a prime example. MTs serve as ″tracks″ for molecular motors, and their biomechanical functions depend on dynamic instabilitya stochastic switching between periods of rapid growing and shrinking. This process is controlled by many cellular factors so that growth and shrinkage periods are correlated with the life cycle of a cell. Resolving the molecular basis for the action of these factors is of paramount importance for understanding the diverse functions of MTs. We employed a multiscale modeling approach to study the force-induced MT depolymerization by analyzing the mechanical response of a MT protofilament to external forces. We carried out self-organized polymer (SOP) model based simulations accelerated on Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). This approach enabled us to follow the mechanical behavior of the molecule on experimental time scales using experimental force loads. We resolved the structural details and determined the physical parameters that characterize the stretching and bending modes of motion of a MT protofilament. The central result is that the severing action of proteins, such as katanin and kinesin, can be understood in terms of their mechanical coupling to a protofilament. For example, the extraction of tubulin dimers from MT caps by katanin can be achieved by pushing the protofilament toward the axis of the MT cylinder, while the removal of large protofilaments curved into ″ram’s horn″ structures by kinesin is the result of the outward bending of the protofilament. We showed that, at the molecular level, these types of deformations are due to the anisotropic, but homogeneous, micromechanical properties of MT protofilaments.