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Nat Cell Biol. 1999 Dec;1(8):493-9.

Cooperative symmetry-breaking by actin polymerization in a model for cell motility.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Polymerizing networks of actin filaments are capable of exerting significant mechanical forces, used by eukaryotic cells and their prokaryotic pathogens to change shape or to move. Here we show that small beads coated uniformly with a protein that catalyses actin polymerization are initially surrounded by symmetrical clouds of actin filaments. This symmetry is broken spontaneously, after which the beads undergo directional motion. We have developed a stochastic theory, in which each actin filament is modelled as an elastic brownian ratchet, that quantitatively accounts for the observed emergent symmetry-breaking behaviour. Symmetry-breaking can only occur for polymers that have a significant subunit off-rate, such as the biopolymers actin and tubulin.

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