Investigation of the Electrical Properties of Microtubule Ensembles under Cell-Like Conditions

Nanomaterials (Basel). 2020 Feb 5;10(2):265. doi: 10.3390/nano10020265.


Microtubules are hollow cylindrical polymers composed of the highly negatively-charged (~23e), high dipole moment (1750 D) protein α, β- tubulin. While the roles of microtubules in chromosomal segregation, macromolecular transport, and cell migration are relatively well-understood, studies on the electrical properties of microtubules have only recently gained strong interest. Here, we show that while microtubules at physiological concentrations increase solution capacitance, free tubulin has no appreciable effect. Further, we observed a decrease in electrical resistance of solution, with charge transport peaking between 20-60 Hz in the presence of microtubules, consistent with recent findings that microtubules exhibit electric oscillations at such low frequencies. We were able to quantify the capacitance and resistance of the microtubules (MT) network at physiological tubulin concentrations to be 1.27 × 10-5 F and 9.74 × 104 Ω. Our results show that in addition to macromolecular transport, microtubules also act as charge storage devices through counterionic condensation across a broad frequency spectrum. We conclude with a hypothesis of an electrically tunable cytoskeleton where the dielectric properties of tubulin are polymerisation-state dependent.

Keywords: bioelectricity; bionanowires; cytoskeleton; impedance spectroscopy; microtubules; neuronal charge storage.