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Geometrical nonlinear elasticity of axon under tension: A coarse-grained computational study

Ning Liu, Poorya Chavoshnejad, Shaoheng Li, , , Ramana Pidaparti,
Published: 23 July 2021

Abstract: Axons bundles cross-linked by microtubule (MT) associate proteins (MAP) and bounded by a shell skeleton are critical for normal function of neurons. Understanding effects of the complexly geometrical parameters on their mechanical properties can help gain a biomechanical perspective on the neurological functions of axons and thus brain disorders caused by the structural failure of axons. Here, the tensile mechanical properties of MT bundles cross-linked by tau proteins are investigated by systematically tuning MT length, axonal cross-section radius, and tau protein spacing in a bead-spring coarse-grained model. Our results indicate that the stress-strain curves of axons can be divided into two regimes, a nonlinear elastic regime dominated by rigid-body like inter-MT sliding, and a linear elastic regime dominated by affine deformation of both tau proteins and MTs. From the energetic analyses, first, the tau proteins dominate the mechanical performance of axons under tension. In the nonlinear regime, tau proteins undergo a rigid-body like rotating motion rather than elongating, while in the nonlinear elastic regime, tau proteins undergo a flexible elongating deformation along the MT axis. Second, as the average spacing between adjacent tau proteins along the MT axial direction increases from 25 nm to 125 nm, the Young's modulus of axon experiences a linear decrease while with the average space varying from 125 nm to 175 nm, and later reaches a plateau value with a stable fluctuation. Third, the increment of the cross-section radius of the MT bundle leads to a decrease in Young's modulus of axon, which is possibly attributed to the decrease in MT numbers per cross section. Overall, our research findings offer a new perspective into understanding the effects of geometrical parameters on the mechanics of MT bundles as well as serving as a theoretical basis for the development of artificial MT complexes potentially towards medical applications.
Keywords: proteins / axons / Understanding effects / geometrical parameters / section radius / coarse grained / tension

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