Motor-free contractility of active biopolymer networks

Sihan Chen, Tomer Markovich, Fred C. Mackintosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contractility in animal cells is often generated by molecular motors such as myosin, which require polar substrates for their function. Motivated by recent experimental evidence of motor-independent contractility, we propose a robust motor-free mechanism that can generate contraction in biopolymer networks without the need for substrate polarity. We show that contractility is a natural consequence of active binding-unbinding of crosslinkers that breaks the principle of detailed balance, together with the asymmetric force-extension response of semiflexible biopolymers. We have extended our earlier work to discuss the motor-free contraction of viscoelastic biopolymer networks. We calculate the resulting contractile velocity using a microscopic model and show that it can be reduced to a simple coarse-grained model under certain limits. Our model may provide an explanation of recent reports of motor-independent contractility in cells. Our results also suggest a mechanism for generating contractile forces in synthetic active materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044405
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2023


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