One of the central functions of actin cytoskeleton is to provide the mechanical support required for the establishment and maintenance of cell morphology. The mechanical properties of actin filament assemblies are a consequence of both the available polymer concentration and the actin regulatory proteins that direct the formation of higher order structures. By monitoring the displacement of well-dispersed microspheres via fluorescence microscopy, we probe the degree of spatial heterogeneity of F-actin gels and networks in vitro. We compare the distribution of the time-dependent mean-square displacement (MSD) of polystyrene microspheres imbedded in low- and high-concentration F-actin solutions, in the presence and absence of the F-actin-bundling protein fascin. The MSD distribution of a 2.6-μM F-actin solution is symmetric and its standard deviation is similar to that of a homogeneous solution of glycerol of similar zero-shear viscosity. However, increasing actin concentration renders the MSD distribution wide and asymmetric, an effect enhanced by fascin. Quantitative changes in the shape of the MSD distribution correlate qualitatively with the presence of large heterogeneities in F-actin solutions produced by increased filament concentration and the presence of actin bundles, as detected by confocal microscopy. Multiple-particle tracking offers a new, quantitative method to characterize the organization of biopolymers in solution.
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