Molecular motors, by turning chemical energy into mechanical work, are responsible for active cellular processes. Often groups of these motors work together to perform their biological role. Motors in an ensemble are coupled and exhibit complex emergent behavior. Although large motor ensembles can be modeled with partial differential equations (PDEs) by assuming that molecules function independently of their neighbors, this assumption is violated when motors are coupled locally. It is therefore unclear how to describe the ensemble behavior of the locally coupled motors responsible for biological processes such as calcium-dependent skeletal muscle activation. Here we develop a theory to describe locally coupled motor ensembles and apply the theory to skeletal muscle activation. The central idea is that a muscle filament can be divided into two phases: an active and an inactive phase. Dynamic changes in the relative size of these phases are described by a set of linear ordinary differential equations (ODEs). As the dynamics of the active phase are described by PDEs, muscle activation is governed by a set of coupled ODEs and PDEs, building on previous PDE models. With comparison to Monte Carlo simulations, we demonstrate that the theory captures the behavior of locally coupled ensembles. The theory also plausibly describes and predicts muscle experiments from molecular to whole muscle scales, suggesting that a micro- to macroscale muscle model is within reach.
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