Contribution of plus and minus end pathways to microtubule turnover

I. A. Vorobjev, V. I. Rodionov, I. V. Maly, G. G. Borisy

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68 Citations (Scopus)


Turnover is important for the maintenance and remodeling of the cytoskeleton during the processes of cell morphogenesis, mitosis and motility. Microtubule (MT) turnover is thought to occur by dynamic instability, growth and shortening at distal (plus) ends. Recent observation of MT release from the centrosome and depolymerization from proximal (minus) ends indicates the existence of a minus end pathway. To evaluate the relative contributions of plus and minus end pathways to turnover, we analyzed MT dynamics in a model system, the fish melanophore, a large non-motile cell with a regular radial array of long MTs. MT ends were tracked in digital fluorescence time-lapse sequences and life histories of individual MTs were analyzed using random walk theory generalized to the case of diffusion with drift. Analysis of plus end dynamics gave an apparent diffusion coefficient of D = 7.5 μm2/minute. The random walk model predicts that the half-time for turnover driven solely by plus end dynamics will depend strongly on position in the cell. Based on the experimentally determined value of D, turnover of MTs near the center of a typical melanophore of radius 70 μm was calculated to require over 5 hours, a paradoxically long time. To examine MT behavior deep in the cytoplasm, we developed a novel, sequential subtraction mode of image analysis. This analysis revealed a subpopulation of MTs which shortened from their minus ends, presumably after constitutive release from the centrosome. Given the relative slowness of plus end dynamics to turn over the root of a long MT, the turnover of MTs near the cell center is determined primarily by the minus-end pathway. MTs released from the centrosome become replaced by newly nucleated ones. The relative contributions of plus and minus end pathways was estimated from the diffusion coefficient, D, for the plus end, the length distribution of MTs, the frequency of free minus ends, and the rate of minus-end shortening. We conclude that, in large animal cells with a centrosomally focussed array of MTs, turnover occurs by a combination of plus and minus end pathways, the plus end dominating at the cell periphery and the minus end dominating near the cell center.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2277-2289
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • Centrosome
  • Diffusion
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Melanophore
  • Microtubule dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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