Biological filaments driven by molecular motors tend to experience tangential propulsive forces also known as active follower forces. When such a filament encounters an obstacle, it deforms, which reorients its follower forces and alters its entire motion. If the filament pushes a cargo, the friction on the cargo can be enough to deform the filament, thus affecting the transport properties of the cargo. Motivated by cytoskeletal filament motility assays, we study the dynamic buckling instabilities of a two-dimensional slender elastic filament driven through a dissipative medium by tangential propulsive forces in the presence of obstacles or cargo. We observe two distinct instabilities. When the filament’s head is pinned or experiences significant translational but little rotational drag from its cargo, it buckles into a steadily rotating coiled state. When it is clamped or experiences both significant translational and rotational drag from its cargo, it buckles into a periodically beating, overall translating state. Using minimal analytically tractable models, linear stability theory, and fully non-linear computations, we study the onset of each buckling instability, characterize each buckled state, and map out the phase diagram of the system. Finally, we use particle-based Brownian dynamics simulations to show our main results are robust to moderate noise and steric repulsion. Overall, our results provide a unified framework to understand the dynamics of tangentially propelled filaments and filament-cargo assemblies.
Publication details: Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 17: 20190794.