A fast platform for simulating semi-flexible fiber suspensions applied to cell mechanics

Ehssan Nazockdast, Abtin Rahimian, Denis Zorin, Michael Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a novel platform for the large-scale simulation of three-dimensional fibrous structures immersed in a Stokesian fluid and evolving under confinement or in free-space in three dimensions. One of the main motivations for this work is to study the dynamics of fiber assemblies within biological cells. For this, we also incorporate the key biophysical elements that determine the dynamics of these assemblies, which include the polymerization and depolymerization kinetics of fibers, their interactions with molecular motors and other objects, their flexibility, and hydrodynamic coupling. This work, to our knowledge, is the first technique to include many-body hydrodynamic interactions (HIs), and the resulting fluid flows, in cellular assemblies of flexible fibers. We use non-local slender body theory to compute the fluid–structure interactions of the fibers and a second-kind boundary integral formulation for other rigid bodies and the confining boundary. A kernel-independent implementation of the fast multipole method is utilized for efficient evaluation of HIs. The deformation of the fibers is described by nonlinear Euler–Bernoulli beam theory and their polymerization is modeled by the reparametrization of the dynamic equations in the appropriate non-Lagrangian frame. We use a pseudo-spectral representation of fiber positions and implicit time-stepping to resolve large fiber deformations, and to allow time-steps not excessively constrained by temporal stiffness or fiber–fiber interactions. The entire computational scheme is parallelized, which enables simulating assemblies of thousands of fibers. We use our method to investigate two important questions in the mechanics of cell division: (i) the effect of confinement on the hydrodynamic mobility of microtubule asters; and (ii) the dynamics of the positioning of mitotic spindle in complex cell geometries. Finally to demonstrate the general applicability of the method, we simulate the sedimentation of a cloud of semi-flexible fibers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-209
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
StatePublished - Jan 15 2017


  • Boundary integral methods
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Fiber suspensions
  • Fluid–structure interactions
  • Mitotic spindle
  • Motor protein
  • Semi-flexible fibers
  • Slender-body theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


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