Dispersion relations of cytoskeleton dynamics

Ru Wang, Lei Lei, Shamira Sridharan, Yingxiao Wang, Alex J. Levine, Gabriel Popescu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While it is well known that the cytoskeleton plays a fundamental role in maintaining cell shape, performing cell division, and intracellular transport, its spatiotemporal dynamics are insufficiently understood. The dispersion relation, which is fundamental for understanding the connection between spatial and temporal scales of a dynamic system, was employed here for the first time to study the activity of actin and microtubules. Using green fluorescence protein for time-lapse imaging of the cytoskeleton, we showed that the dispersion relation can distinguish between diffusive and active transport of actin and microtubule filaments. Our analysis revealed that along the filaments, the transport was deterministic, as one might expect as the result of the active polymerization process, while across the filaments diffusion was dominant. Furthermore, using drugs to block the polymerization–depolymerization of both actin and microtubules, we measured that the transport immediately became diffusive, as expected. However, unexpectedly, our results indicated that within a few minutes from blocking its polymerization, actin recovered an active transport component. This deterministic component vanished upon treatment with nocodazole, indicating that fragments of actin were actively transported along microtubules. Because it provides information over broad temporal and spatial scales, this approach promises to provide a new window into the active processes associated with live cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalCell Health and Cytoskeleton
StatePublished - Jan 21 2016


  • Actin dynamics
  • Microtubule dynamics
  • QPI
  • Quantitative phase imaging
  • SLIM
  • Spatial light interference microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Histology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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