Ciliary movement is caused by coordinated sliding interactions between the peripheral doublet microtubules of the axoneme. In demembranated organelles treated with trypsin and ATP, this sliding can be visualized during progressive disintegration. In this paper, microtubule sliding behavior resulting from various patterns of dynein arm activity and elastic link breakage is determined using a simplified model of the axoneme. The model consists of a cylindrical array of microtubules joined, initially, by elastic links, with the possibility of dynein arm interaction between microtubules. If no elastic links are broken, sliding can produce stable distortion of the model, which finds application to straight sections of a motile cilium. If some elastic links break, the model predicts a variety of sliding patterns, some of which match, qualitatively, the observed disintegration behavior of real axonemes. Splitting of the axoneme is most likely to occur between two doublets N and N + 1 when either the arms on doublet N + 1 are active and arms on doublet N are inactive or arms on doublet N - 1 are active while arms on doublet N are inactive. The analysis suggests further experimental studies which, in conjunction with the model, will lead to a more detailed understanding of the sliding mechanism, and will allow the mechanical properties of some axonemal components to be evaluated.
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