Polymerization and depolymerization of cytoskeletal elements maintaining cytoplasmic stiffness are key factors in the control of cell crawling. Rheometry is a significant tool in determining the mechanical properties of the single elements in vitro. Viscoelasticity of gels formed by these polymers strongly depends on both the length and the associations of the filaments (e.g. entanglements, annealings and side-by-side associations). Ultrasound attenuation is related to viscosity, sound velocity and supramolecular structures in the sample. In combination with a small glass fibre (2mm×50µm), serving as a viscosity sensor, an acoustic microscope was used to measure the elasticity and acoustic attenuation of actin solutions. Changes in acoustic attenuation of polymerizing actin by far exceed the values expected from calculations based on changes in viscosity and sound velocity. During the lag-phase of actin polymerization, attenuation slightly decreases, depending on actin concentration. After the half-maximum viscosity is accomplished and elasticity turns into steady state, attenuation distinctly rises. Changes in ultrasound attenuation depend on actin concentration, and they are modulated by the addition of α-actinin, cytochalasin D and profilin. Thus absorption and scattering of sound on the polymerization of actin is related to the packing density of the actin net, entanglements and the length of the actin filaments. Shortening of actin filaments by cytochalasin D was also confirmed by electron micrographs and falling-ball viscosimetry. In addition to viscosity and elasticity, the attenuation of sound proved to be a valuable parameter in characterizing actin polymerization and the supramolecular associations of F-actin.

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