Vast heterogeneity in cytoplasmic diffusion rates revealed by nanorheology and Doppelgänger simulations
The cytoplasm is a complex, crowded, actively-driven environment whose biophysical characteristics modulate critical cellular processes such as cytoskeletal dynamics, phase separation, and stem-cell fate. Little is known about the variance in these cytoplasmic properties. Here, we employed particle-tracking nanorheology on genetically encoded multimeric 40-nm nanoparticles (GEMs) to measure diffusion within the cytoplasm of the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe . We found that the apparent diffusion coefficients of individual GEM particles varied over a 400-fold range, while the differences in average particle diffusivity among individual cells spanned a 10-fold range. To determine the origin of this heterogeneity, we developed a Doppelgänger Simulation approach that uses stochastic simulations of GEM diffusion that replicate the experimental statistics on a particle-by-particle basis, such that each experimental track and cell had a one-to-one correspondence with their simulated counterpart. These simulations showed that the large intra- and inter-cellular variations in diffusivity could not be explained by experimental variability but could only be reproduced with stochastic models that assume a wide intra- and inter-cellular variation in cytoplasmic viscosity. The simulation combining intra- and inter-cellular variation in viscosity also predicted weak non-ergodicity in GEM diffusion, consistent with the experimental data. To probe the origin of this variation, we found that the variance in GEM diffusivity was largely independent of factors such as temperature, cytoskeletal effects, cell cycle stage and spatial locations, but was magnified by hyperosmotic shocks. Taken together, our results provide a striking demonstration that the cytoplasm is not “well-mixed” but represents a highly heterogeneous environment in which subcellular components at the 40-nm sizescale experience dramatically different effective viscosities within an individual cell, as well as in different cells in a genetically identical population. These findings carry significant implications for the origins and regulation of biological noise at cellular and subcellular levels.
Biophysical properties of the cytoplasm influence many cellular processes, from differentiation to cytoskeletal dynamics, yet little is known about how tightly cells control these properties. We developed a combined experimental and computational approach to analyze cytoplasmic heterogeneity through the lens of diffusion. We find that the apparent cytoplasmic viscosity varies tremendously – over 100-fold within any individual cell, and over 10-fold among individual cells when comparing averages of all particles measured for each cell. The variance was largely independent of temperature, the cytoskeleton, cell cycle stage, and localization, but was magnified under hyperosmotic shock. This suggests that cytoplasmic heterogeneity contributes substantially to biological variability within and between cells, and has significant implications for any cellular process that depends on diffusion.