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A Model of the Spatially Dependent Mechanical Properties of the Axon During Its Growth

J.A. García1,2, J.M. Peña1, S. McHugh2, A. Jérusalem2,3
DATSI Computer Science, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Campus de Montegancedo, 28860 Madrid, Spain
IMDEA Materials Institute, Tecnogetafe, C/ Eric Kandel 2, 28906 Getafe, Spain
Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PJ, UK; corresponding author:

Computer Modeling in Engineering & Sciences 2012, 87(5), 411-432.


Neuronal growth is a complex process involving many intra- and extracellular mechanisms which are collaborating conjointly to participate to the development of the nervous system. More particularly, the early neocortical development involves the creation of a multilayered structure constituted by neuronal growth (driven by axonal or dendritic guidance cues) as well as cell migration. The underlying mechanisms of such structural lamination not only implies important biochemical changes at the intracellular level through axonal microtubule (de)polymerization and growth cone advance, but also through the directly dependent stress/stretch coupling mechanisms driving them. Efforts have recently focused on modeling approaches aimed at accounting for the effect of mechanical tension or compression on the axonal growth and subsequent soma migration. However, the reciprocal influence of the biochemical structural evolution on the mechanical properties has been mostly disregarded. We thus propose a new model aimed at providing the spatially dependent mechanical properties of the axon during its growth. Our in-house finite difference solver Neurite is used to describe the guanosine triphosphate (GTP) transport through the axon, its dephosphorylation in guanosine diphosphate (GDP), and thus the microtubules polymerization. The model is calibrated against experimental results and the tensile and bending mechanical stiffnesses are ultimately inferred from the spatially dependent microtubule occupancy. Such additional information is believed to be of drastic relevance in the growth cone vicinity, where biomechanical mechanisms are driving axonal growth and pathfinding. More specifically, the confirmation of a lower stiffness in the distal axon ultimately participates in explaining the controversy associated to the tensile role of the growth cone.


Microtubule polymerization, mechanical properties, axonal growth, finite difference modeling

Cite This Article

García, J., Peña, J., McHugh, S., Jérusalem, A. (2012). A Model of the Spatially Dependent Mechanical Properties of the Axon During Its Growth. CMES-Computer Modeling in Engineering & Sciences, 87(5), 411–432.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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