Polar patterns of driven filaments

Nature. 2010 Sep 2;467(7311):73-7. doi: 10.1038/nature09312.


The emergence of collective motion exhibited by systems ranging from flocks of animals to self-propelled microorganisms to the cytoskeleton is a ubiquitous and fascinating self-organization phenomenon. Similarities between these systems, such as the inherent polarity of the constituents, a density-dependent transition to ordered phases or the existence of very large density fluctuations, suggest universal principles underlying pattern formation. This idea is followed by theoretical models at all levels of description: micro- or mesoscopic models directly map local forces and interactions using only a few, preferably simple, interaction rules, and more macroscopic approaches in the hydrodynamic limit rely on the systems' generic symmetries. All these models characteristically have a broad parameter space with a manifold of possible patterns, most of which have not yet been experimentally verified. The complexity of interactions and the limited parameter control of existing experimental systems are major obstacles to our understanding of the underlying ordering principles. Here we demonstrate the emergence of collective motion in a high-density motility assay that consists of highly concentrated actin filaments propelled by immobilized molecular motors in a planar geometry. Above a critical density, the filaments self-organize to form coherently moving structures with persistent density modulations, such as clusters, swirls and interconnected bands. These polar nematic structures are long lived and can span length scales orders of magnitudes larger than their constituents. Our experimental approach, which offers control of all relevant system parameters, complemented by agent-based simulations, allows backtracking of the assembly and disassembly pathways to the underlying local interactions. We identify weak and local alignment interactions to be essential for the observed formation of patterns and their dynamics. The presented minimal polar-pattern-forming system may thus provide new insight into emerging order in the broad class of active fluids and self-propelled particles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actin Cytoskeleton / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cytoskeleton / chemistry*
  • Microtubules / chemistry
  • Models, Biological*
  • Myosin Subfragments / metabolism*


  • Myosin Subfragments