The cell cortex is a highly dynamic network of cytoskeletal filaments in which motor proteins induce active cortical stresses which in turn drive dynamic cellular processes such as cell motility, furrow formation or cytokinesis during cell division. Here, we develop a three-dimensional computational model of a cell cortex in the viscous limit including active cortical flows. Combining active gel and thin shell theory, we base our computational tool directly on the force balance equations for the velocity field on a discretized and arbitrarily deforming cortex. Since our method is based on the general force balance equations, it can easily be extended to more complex biological dependencies in terms of the constitutive laws or a dynamic coupling to a suspending fluid. We validate our algorithm by investigating the formation of a cleavage furrow on a biological cell immersed in a passive outer fluid, where we successfully compare our results to axi-symmetric simulations. We then apply our fully three-dimensional algorithm to fold formation and to study furrow formation under the influence of non-axisymmetric disturbances such as external shear. We report a reorientation mechanism by which the cell autonomously realigns its axis perpendicular to the furrow plane thus contributing to the robustness of cell division under realistic environmental conditions.
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