Cells both actively generate and sensitively react to forces through their mechanical framework, the cytoskeleton, which is a nonequilibrium composite material including polymers and motor proteins. We measured the dynamics and mechanical properties of a simple three-component model system consisting of myosin II, actin filaments, and cross-linkers. In this system, stresses arising from motor activity controlled the cytoskeletal network mechanics, increasing stiffness by a factor of nearly 100 and qualitatively changing the viscoelastic response of the network in an adenosine triphosphate-dependent manner. We present a quantitative theoretical model connecting the large-scale properties of this active gel to molecular force generation.
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