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Dynamics and a life cycle of microtubules in a cell

Vorobjev I.A., Grigor’ev I.S.


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In living cells microtubules (MTs) continuously grow and shorten. This feature of MTs was discovered in vitro and named dynamic instability. Comparison of dynamic instability of MTs in vitro and in vivo shows a number of differences. MTs in vivo rapidly grow (up to 20 um/min), duration of their shortening is small (on average 15–20 s), and pauses are prominent. In different animal cells MTs grow from the centrosome and form a radial array. In such cells growth of MTs is persistent, i.e. undergo without interruptions until plus end of a MT reaches cell margin. Analysis of literature and original data shows that interconvertion between phases of growth, shortening and pause is asymmetric: growth often converts into pause, while shortening always converts into growth without pause. We suggest dynamic instability described near the cell margin in numerous publications results not only from intrinsic properties of MTs, but also because of the external obstacles for their growth. MT behavior in the cells with radial array of long MTs could be treated as dynamic instability with boundary conditions. One boundary is the centrosome responsible for rapid initiation of MT growth. Another boundary is cell margin limiting MT elongation. MT growth occurs with constant mean velocity, and potential duration of growth phase might exceed cell radius. MT shortening is usually smaller than MT length however velocity of shortening increases with time. Random episodes of rapid shortening are sufficient for the exchange of MTs in 10–20 min. in the cells not more than 40–50 μm in diameter. Experimental data show that similar rate of exchange of MTs is in the large cells. This is achieved employing another mechanism, namely release of MTs and depolymerization from the minus end. In the minus end pathway time required for the exchange of MTs does not depend on cell radius and is determined primarily by the frequency of releases. Thus a small number of free MTs with metastable minus ends significantly reduce time required for the renovation of the radial MT array. Summarizing all experimental data we suggest the life cycle scheme for the MT in a cell. MT is initiated at the centrosome and grows rapidly until it reaches cell margin. At the margin the plus end oscillates, and finally MT depolimerizes. MT “death” comes from a random catastrophe (shortening from the plus end) in small cells or from release and depolymerization of the minus end in large cells.

Tsitologiya i Genetika 2003, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 22-38

Vorobjev I.A., Grigor’ev I.S. Dynamics and a life cycle of microtubules in a cell, Tsitol Genet., 2003, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 22-38.

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