Structure and dynamics of ER: minimal networks and biophysical constraints

Congping Lin, Yiwei Zhang, Imogen Sparkes, Peter Ashwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in live cells is a highly mobile network whose structure dynamically changes on a number of timescales. The role of such drastic changes in any system is unclear, although there are correlations with ER function. A better understanding of the fundamental biophysical constraints on the system will allow biologists to determine the effects of molecular factors on ER dynamics. Previous studies have identified potential static elements that the ER may remodel around. Here, we use these structural elements to assess biophysical principles behind the network dynamics. By analyzing imaging data of tobacco leaf epidermal cells under two different conditions, i.e., native state (control) and latrunculin B (treated), we show that the geometric structure and dynamics of ER networks can be understood in terms of minimal networks. Our results show that the ER network is well modeled as a locally minimal-length network between the static elements that potentially anchor the ER to the cell cortex over longer timescales; this network is perturbed by a mixture of random and deterministic forces. The network need not have globally minimum length; we observe cases where the local topology may change dynamically between different Euclidean Steiner network topologies. The networks in the treated cells are easier to quantify, because they are less dynamic (the treatment suppresses actin dynamics), but the same general features are found in control cells. Using a Langevin approach, we model the dynamics of the nonpersistent nodes and use this to show that the images can be used to estimate both local viscoelastic behavior of the cytoplasm and filament tension in the ER network. This means we can explain several aspects of the ER geometry in terms of biophysical principles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-772
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2014


  • Elasticity
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Plant Cells
  • Tobacco
  • Viscosity
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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