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J Phys Condens Matter. 2011 Sep 21;23(37):374104. doi: 10.1088/0953-8984/23/37/374104. Epub 2011 Aug 23.

Loop formation of microtubules during gliding at high density.

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Department of Physics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.


The microtubule cytoskeleton, including the associated proteins, forms a complex network essential to multiple cellular processes. Microtubule-associated motor proteins, such as kinesin-1, travel on microtubules to transport membrane bound vesicles across the crowded cell. Other motors, such as cytoplasmic dynein and kinesin-5, are used to organize the cytoskeleton during mitosis. In order to understand the self-organization processes of motors on microtubules, we performed filament-gliding assays with kinesin-1 motors bound to the cover glass with a high density of microtubules on the surface. To observe microtubule organization, 3% of the microtubules were fluorescently labeled to serve as tracers. We find that microtubules in these assays are not confined to two dimensions and can cross one other. This causes microtubules to align locally with a relatively short correlation length. At high density, this local alignment is enough to create 'intersections' of perpendicularly oriented groups of microtubules. These intersections create vortices that cause microtubules to form loops. We characterize the radius of curvature and time duration of the loops. These different behaviors give insight into how crowded conditions, such as those in the cell, might affect motor behavior and cytoskeleton organization.

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