Anisotropic Elastic Network Modeling of Entire Microtubules

Deriu, Marco Agostino and Soncini, Monica and Orsi, Mario and Patel, Mishal and Essex, Jonathan W. and Montevecchi, Franco M. and Redaelli, Alberto (2010) Anisotropic Elastic Network Modeling of Entire Microtubules. Biophysical Journal, 99 (7). pp. 2190-2199. ISSN 0006-3495

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Microtubules are supramolecular structures that make up the cytoskeleton and strongly affect the mechanical properties of the cell. Within the cytoskeleton filaments, the microtubule (MT) exhibits by far the highest bending stiffness. Bending stiffness depends on the mechanical properties and intermolecular interactions of the tubulin dimers (the MT building blocks). Computational molecular modeling has the potential for obtaining quantitative insights into this area. However, to our knowledge, standard molecular modeling techniques, such as molecular dynamics (MD) and normal mode analysis (NMA), are not yet able to simulate large molecular structures like the MTs; in fact, their possibilities are normally limited to much smaller protein complexes. In this work, we developed a multiscale approach by merging the modeling contribution from MD and NMA. In particular, MD simulations were used to refine the molecular conformation and arrangement of the tubulin dimers inside the MT lattice. Subsequently, NMA was used to investigate the vibrational properties of MTs modeled as an elastic network. The coarse-grain model here developed can describe systems of hundreds of interacting tubulin monomers (corresponding to up to 1,000,000 atoms). In particular, we were able to simulate coarse-grain models of entire MTs, with lengths up to 350 nm. A quantitative mechanical investigation was performed; from the bending and stretching modes, we estimated MT macroscopic properties such as bending stiffness, Young modulus, and persistence length, thus allowing a direct comparison with experimental data.

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