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Memoryless self-reinforcing directionality in endosomal active transport within living cells



In contrast to Brownian transport, the active motility of microbes, cells, animals and even humans often follows another random process known as truncated Lévy walk1,2. These stochastic motions are characterized by clustered small steps and intermittent longer jumps that often extend towards the size of the entire system. As there are repeated suggestions, although disagreement, that Lévy walks have functional advantages over Brownian motion in random searching and transport kinetics3,4,5,6,7,8, their intentional engineering into active materials could be useful. Here, we show experimentally in the classic active matter system of intracellular trafficking9,10,11,12,13,14,15 that Brownian-like steps self-organize into truncated Lévy walks through an apparent time-independent positive feedback such that directional persistence increases with the distance travelled persistently. A molecular model that allows the maximum output of the active propelling forces to fluctuate slowly fits the experiments quantitatively. Our findings offer design principles for programming efficient transport in active materials.

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Figure 1: Feedback in directional persistence transforms transport dynamics.
Figure 2: Trajectories of endosomes in live cells.
Figure 3: Combined experiments and numerical modelling show that positive feedback in directional persistence during intracellular trafficking transforms Brownian-like steps to truncated Lévy walks.
Figure 4: The balance of competing factors determines feedback and the nature of the transport dynamics.


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This work was supported by the US Department of Energy, Division of Materials Science, under Award DEFG02-02ER46019. B.W. holds a Career Award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. S.G. acknowledges office support from the Institute for Basic Science, Project Code IBS-R020-D1. We thank J. Kuo and S. C. Bae for experimental help, and J. Cheng for cell culture lab space.

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K.C. and B.W. developed the analysis; B.W. designed and performed the experiment; K.C., B.W. and S.G. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Bo Wang or Steve Granick.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chen, K., Wang, B. & Granick, S. Memoryless self-reinforcing directionality in endosomal active transport within living cells. Nature Mater 14, 589–593 (2015).

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