Nonlinear dynamics of cilia and flagella

Amit K. Chattopadhyay, Andreas Hilfinger, Frank Jülicher

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Cilia and flagella are hairlike extensions of eukaryotic cells which generate oscillatory beat patterns that can propel micro-organisms and create fluid flows near cellular surfaces. The evolutionary highly conserved core of cilia and flagella consists of a cylindrical arrangement of nine microtubule doublets, called the axoneme. The axoneme is an actively bending structure whose motility results from the action of dynein motor proteins cross-linking microtubule doublets and generating stresses that induce bending deformations. The periodic beat patterns are the result of a mechanical feedback that leads to self-organized bending waves along the axoneme. Using a theoretical framework to describe planar beating motion, we derive a nonlinear wave equation that describes the fundamental Fourier mode of the axonemal beat. We study the role of nonlinearities and investigate how the amplitude of oscillations increases in the vicinity of an oscillatory instability. We furthermore present numerical solutions of the nonlinear wave equation for different boundary conditions. We find that the nonlinear waves are well approximated by the linearly unstable modes for amplitudes of beat patterns similar to those observed experimentally.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number051918
    Pages (from-to)051918
    Number of pages1
    JournalPhysical Review E
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2009

    Bibliographical note

    © 2009 The American Physical Society


    • cilia
    • flagella
    • eukaryotic cells
    • oscillatory beat patterns
    • microtubule doublets
    • axoneme
    • dynein motor proteins
    • nonlinear wave equation
    • fundamental Fourier mode
    • amplitude of oscillations


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