Mechanical tension is critical in neuronal function

Neurons are the basic communication element of the nervous system in most animals. They are involved in nearly everything we do including thought, sight, hearing, feeling, and locomotion. They maintain and regulate an internal tension that is critical to their function, growth, and development.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 4.39.31 PM

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 4.39.53 PMEffective intracellular transport of proteins and organelles is critical in cells, and is especially important for ensuring proper neuron functionality. In neurons, most proteins are synthesized in the cell body and must be transported through thin structures over long distances where normal diffusion is insufficient. Neurons transport subcellular cargo along axons and neurites through a stochastic interplay of active and passive transport. Mechanical tension is critical in maintaining proper function in neurons, but its role in transport is not well understood. To this end, we investigate the active and passive transport of vesicles in Aplysia neurons while changing neurite tension via applied strain, and quantify the resulting dynamics. We found that tension in neurons modulates active transport of vesicles by increasing the probability of active motion, effective diffusivity, and induces a retrograde bias.

We show that mechanical tension modulates active transport processes in neurons and that external forces can couple to internal (subcellular) forces and change the overall transport dynamics.


W. Ahmed, T. A. Saif. “Active transport of vesicles in neurons is modulated by mechanical tension” Scientific Reports 4, 4481. 2014 (DOI: 10.1038/srep04481) [link]

W. Ahmed. “Neurons under tension: A study of vesicle dynamics” University of Illinois, Ph.D. Dissertation. 2013 [link]

W. Ahmed, B. Williams, A. Silver, T. A. Saif. “Measuring non-equilibrium vesicle dynamics in neurons under tension” Lab on a Chip. 2013 (DOI:10.1039/C2LC41109A) [link]

W. Ahmed, J. Rajagopalan, A. Tofangchi, T. A. Saif. “Neuromechanics: The role of tension in neuronal growth and memory” Nano and Cell Mechanics. 2012 (DOI: 10.1002/9781118482568.ch3) [link]

W. Ahmed, T. Li, S. Rubakhin, A. Chiba, J. Sweedler, T. A. Saif. “Mechanical tension modulates local and global vesicle dynamics in neurons” Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering. 2012 (DOI: 10.1007/s12195-012-0223-1) [link]