Microtubules as mechanical force sensors. Academic Article uri icon


  • Microtubules are polymers of tubulin subunits (dimers) arranged on a hexagonal lattice. Each tubulin dimer comprises two monomers, the alpha-tubulin and beta-tubulin, and can be found in two states. In the first state a mobile negative charge is located into the alpha-tubulin monomer and in the second into the beta-tubulin monomer. Each tubulin dimer is modeled as an electrical dipole coupled to its neighbors by electrostatic forces. The location of the mobile charge in each dimer depends on the location of the charges in the dimer's neighborhood. Mechanical forces that act on the microtubule affect the distances between the dimers and alter the electrostatic potential. Changes in this potential affect the mobile negative charge location in each dimer and the charge distribution in the microtubule. The net effect is that mechanical forces affect the charge distribution in microtubules. We propose to exploit this effect and use microtubules as mechanical force sensors. We model each dimer as a two-state quantum system and, following the quantum computation paradigm, we use discrete quantum random walk on the hexagonal microtubule lattice to determine the charge distribution. Different forces applied on the microtubule are modeled as different coin biases leading to different probability distributions of the quantum walker location, which are directly connected to different charge distributions. Simulation results show that there is a strong indication that microtubules can be used as mechanical force sensors and that they can also detect the force directions and magnitudes.

published proceedings

  • Biosystems

author list (cited authors)

  • Karafyllidis, I. G., & Lagoudas, D. C

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Karafyllidis, Ioannis G||Lagoudas, Dimitris C

publication date

  • March 2007