Geometric localization of thermal fluctuations in red blood cells

Posted on February 28, 2017 by Chenfei Hu

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The thermal fluctuations of membranes and nanoscale shells affect their mechanical characteristics. Whereas these fluctuations are well understood for flat membranes, curved shells show anomalous behavior due to the geometric coupling between in-plane elasticity and out-of-plane bending. Using conventional shallow shell theory in combination with equilibrium statistical physics we theoretically demonstrate that thermalized shells containing regions of negative Gaussian curvature naturally develop anomalously large fluctuations. Moreover, the existence of special curves, “singular lines,” leads to a breakdown of linear membrane theory. As a result, these geometric curves effectively partition the cell into regions whose fluctuations are only weakly coupled. We validate these predictions using high-resolution microscopy of human red blood cells (RBCs) as a case study. Our observations show geometry-dependent localization of thermal fluctuations consistent with our theoretical modeling, demonstrating the efficacy in combining shell theory with equilibrium statistical physics for describing the thermalized morphology of cellular membranes.