Although we have extensive knowledge of many important processes in cell biology, including information on many of the molecules involved and the physical interactions among them, we still do not understand most of the dynamical features that are the essence of living systems. This is particularly true for the actin cytoskeleton, a major component of the internal architecture of eukaryotic cells. In living cells, actin networks constantly assemble and disassemble filaments while maintaining an apparent stable structure, suggesting a perfect balance between the two processes. Such behaviors are called “dynamic steady states”. They confer upon actin networks a high degree of plasticity allowing them to adapt in response to external changes and enable cells to adjust to their environments. Despite their fundamental importance in the regulation of cell physiology, the basic mechanisms that control the coordinated dynamics of co-existing actin networks are poorly understood. In the AAA project, first, we will characterize the parameters that allow the coupling among co-existing actin networks at steady state. In vitro reconstituted systems will be used to control the actin nucleation patterns, the closed volume of the reaction chamber and the physical interaction of the networks. We hope to unravel the mechanism allowing the global coherence of a dynamic actin cytoskeleton. Second, we will use our unique capacity to perform dynamic micropatterning, to add or remove actin nucleation sites in real time, in order to investigate the ability of dynamic networks to adapt to changes and the role of coupled network dynamics in this emergent property. In this part, in vitro experiments will be complemented by the analysis of actin network remodeling in living cells. In the end, our project will provide a comprehensive understanding of how the adaptive response of the cytoskeleton derives from the complex interplay between its biochemical, structural and mechanical properties.
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