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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2008 Oct;78(4 Pt 1):041922. Epub 2008 Oct 29.

Power-law creep behavior of a semiflexible chain.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


Rheological properties of adherent cells are essential for their physiological functions, and microrheological measurements on living cells have shown that their viscoelastic responses follow a weak power law over a wide range of time scales. This power law is also influenced by mechanical prestress borne by the cytoskeleton, suggesting that cytoskeletal prestress determines the cell's viscoelasticity, but the biophysical origins of this behavior are largely unknown. We have recently developed a stochastic two-dimensional model of an elastically joined chain that links the power-law rheology to the prestress. Here we use a similar approach to study the creep response of a prestressed three-dimensional elastically jointed chain as a viscoelastic model of semiflexible polymers that comprise the prestressed cytoskeletal lattice. Using a Monte Carlo based algorithm, we show that numerical simulations of the chain's creep behavior closely correspond to the behavior observed experimentally in living cells. The power-law creep behavior results from a finite-speed propagation of free energy from the chain's end points toward the center of the chain in response to an externally applied stretching force. The property that links the power law to the prestress is the chain's stiffening with increasing prestress, which originates from entropic and enthalpic contributions. These results indicate that the essential features of cellular rheology can be explained by the viscoelastic behaviors of individual semiflexible polymers of the cytoskeleton.

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