The Mechanics of (Poro-)Elastic Contractile Actomyosin Networks As a Model System of the Cell Cytoskeleton

Sakshi Choudhary, Gefen Livne, Shachar Gat, Anne Bernheim-Groswasser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cells can actively change their shapes and become motile, a property that depends on their ability to actively reorganize their internal structure. This feature is attributed to the mechanical and dynamic properties of the cell cytoskeleton, notably, the actomyosin cytoskeleton, which is an active gel of polar actin filaments, myosin motors, and accessory proteins that exhibit intrinsic contraction properties. The usually accepted view is that the cytoskeleton behaves as a viscoelastic material. However, this model cannot always explain the experimental results, which are more consistent with a picture describing the cytoskeleton as a poroelastic active material-an elastic network embedded with cytosol. Contractility gradients generated by the myosin motors drive the flow of the cytosol across the gel pores, which infers that the mechanics of the cytoskeleton and the cytosol are tightly coupled. One main feature of poroelasticity is the diffusive relaxation of stresses in the network, characterized by an effective diffusion constant that depends on the gel elastic modulus, porosity, and cytosol (solvent) viscosity. As cells have many ways to regulate their structure and material properties, our current understanding of how cytoskeleton mechanics and cytosol flow dynamics are coupled remains poorly understood. Here, an in vitro reconstitution approach is employed to characterize the material properties of poroelastic actomyosin gels as a model system for the cell cytoskeleton. Gel contraction is driven by myosin motor contractility, which leads to the emergence of a flow of the penetrating solvent. The paper describes how to prepare these gels and run experiments. We also discuss how to measure and analyze the solvent flow and gel contraction both at the local and global scales. The various scaling relations used for data quantification are given. Finally, the experimental challenges and common pitfalls are discussed, including their relevance to cell cytoskeleton mechanics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number193
StatePublished - 10 Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (all)
  • Neuroscience (all)


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