EMERGENT NETWORK ORGANIZATION IN LINEAR AND DENDRITIC ACTIN NETWORKS REVEALED BY MECHANOCHEMICAL SIMULATIONS
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Cells employ networks of filamentous biopolymers to achieve shape changes and exert migratory forces. As the networks offer structural integrity to a cell, they are referred to as the cytoskeleton. Actin is an essential component of the cellular cytoskeleton. The organization of the actin cytoskeleton is through a combination of linear and branched filaments. Despite the knowledge of various actin-binding proteins and their interactions with individual actin filaments, the network level organization that emerges from filament level dynamics is not well understood. In this thesis, we address this issue by using advanced computer simulations that account for the complex mechanochemical dynamics of the actin networks. We begin by investigating the conditions that stabilize three critical bundle morphologies formed of linear actin filaments in the absence of external forces. We find that unipolar bundles are more stable than apolar bundles. We provide a novel mechanism for the sarcomere-like organization of bundles that have not been reported before. Then, we investigate the effect of branching nucleators, Arp2/3, on the hierarchical organization of actin in a network.By analyzing actin density fields, we find that Arp2/3 works antagonistic to myosin contractility, and excess Arp2/3 leads to spatial fragmentation of high-density actin domains. We also highlight the roles of myosin and Arp2/3 in causing the fragmentation. Finally, we understand the cooperation between the linear and dendritic filament organization strategies in the context of the growth cone. We simulate networks at various concentrations of branching molecule Arp2/3 and processive polymerase, Enabled to mimic the effect of a key axonal signaling protein, Abelson receptor non-tyrosine kinase (Abl). We find that Arp2/3 has a more substantial role in altering filament lengths and spatial actin distribution. By looking at conditions that mimic Abl signaling, we find that overexpression mimics are characterized by network fragmentation. We explore the consequence of such a fragmentation with perturbative simulations and determine that Abl overexpression causes mechanochemical fragmentation of actin networks. This finding could explain the increased developmental errors and actin fragmentation observed in vivo. Our research provides fundamental self-assembly mechanisms for linear and dendritic actin networks also highlights specific mechanochemical properties that have not been observed earlier.