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PLoS One. 2010 Aug 18;5(8):e12043. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012043.

The non-equilibrium thermodynamics and kinetics of focal adhesion dynamics.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.



We consider a focal adhesion to be made up of molecular complexes, each consisting of a ligand, an integrin molecule, and associated plaque proteins. Free energy changes drive the binding and unbinding of these complexes and thereby controls the focal adhesion's dynamic modes of growth, treadmilling and resorption.


We have identified a competition among four thermodynamic driving forces for focal adhesion dynamics: (i) the work done during the addition of a single molecular complex of a certain size, (ii) the chemical free energy change associated with the addition of a molecular complex, (iii) the elastic free energy change associated with deformation of focal adhesions and the cell membrane, and (iv) the work done on a molecular conformational change. We have developed a theoretical treatment of focal adhesion dynamics as a nonlinear rate process governed by a classical kinetic model. We also express the rates as being driven by out-of-equilibrium thermodynamic driving forces, and modulated by kinetics. The mechanisms governed by the above four effects allow focal adhesions to exhibit a rich variety of behavior without the need to introduce special constitutive assumptions for their response. For the reaction-limited case growth, treadmilling and resorption are all predicted by a very simple chemo-mechanical model. Treadmilling requires symmetry breaking between the ends of the focal adhesion, and is achieved by driving force (i) above. In contrast, depending on its numerical value (ii) causes symmetric growth, resorption or is neutral, (iii) causes symmetric resorption, and (iv) causes symmetric growth. These findings hold for a range of conditions: temporally-constant force or stress, and for spatially-uniform and non-uniform stress distribution over the FA. The symmetric growth mode dominates for temporally-constant stress, with a reduced treadmilling regime.


In addition to explaining focal adhesion dynamics, this treatment can be coupled with models of cytoskeleton dynamics and contribute to the understanding of cell motility.

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