Axonal microtubule (MT) bundles crosslinked by microtubule-associated protein (MAP) tau are responsible for vital biological functions such as maintaining mechanical integrity and shape of the axon as well as facilitating axonal transport. Breaking and twisting of MTs have been previously observed in damaged undulated axons. Such breaking and twisting of MTs is suggested to cause axonal swellings that lead to axonal degeneration, which is known as "diffuse axonal injury". In particular, overstretching and torsion of axons can potentially damage the axonal cytoskeleton. Following our previous studies on mechanical response of axonal MT bundles under uniaxial tension and compression, this work seeks to characterize the mechanical behavior of MT bundles under pure torsion as well as a combination of torsional and tensile loads using a coarse-grained computational model. In the case of pure torsion, a competition between MAP tau tensile and MT bending energies is observed. After three turns, a transition occurs in the mechanical behavior of the bundle that is characterized by its diameter shrinkage. Furthermore, crosslink spacing is shown to considerably influence the mechanical response, with larger MAP tau spacing resulting in a higher rate of turns. Therefore, MAP tau crosslinking of MT filaments protects the bundle from excessive deformation. Simultaneous application of torsion and tension on MT bundles is shown to accelerate bundle failure, compared to pure tension experiments. MAP tau proteins fail in clusters of 10-100 elements located at the discontinuities or the ends of MT filaments. This failure occurs in a stepwise fashion, implying gradual accumulation of elastic tensile energy in crosslinks followed by rupture. Failure of large groups of interconnecting MAP tau proteins leads to detachment of MT filaments from the bundle near discontinuities. This study highlights the importance of torsional loading in axonal damage after traumatic brain injury.
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