Cytoplasmic assembly of microtubules in cultured cells

Ivan A. Vorobjev, Tatyana M. Svitkina, Gary G. Borisy

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104 Citations (Scopus)


The origin of non-centrosomal microtubules was investigated in a variety of animal cells in culture by means of time-lapse digital fluorescence microscopy. A previous study demonstrated a pathway for formation of noncentrosomal microtubules by release from the centrosome. Here we show a parallel pathway not dependent upon the centrosome. Correlative immunostaining with anti-tubulin antibodies and electron microscopy established that apparent free microtubules observed in vivo were not growing ends of long stable microtubules. Free microtubules appeared spontaneously in the cytoplasm and occasionally by breakage of long microtubules. Estimates of the frequencies of free microtubule formation suggest that it can be a relatively common rather than exceptional event in PtK 1 cells and may represent a significant source of noncentrosomal microtubules. The observation of free microtubules permitted analysis of the microtubule minus end. Unlike the plus end which showed dynamic instability, the minus end was stable or depolymerized. Breakage of long microtubules generated nascent plus and minus ends; the nascent minus end was generally stable while the plus end was always dynamic. The stability of microtubule minus ends in vivo apparently provides the necessary condition for free microtubule formation in the cytoplasm. Parameters of the dynamic instability of plus ends of free microtubules were similar to those for the distal ends of long microtubules, indicating that the free microtubules were not exceptional in their dynamic behavior. Random walk analysis of microtubule end dynamics gave apparent diffusion coefficients for free and long microtubules which permitted an estimate of turnover half-times. The results support the concept that, in PtK 1 cells, a pathway other than plus end dynamics is needed to account for the rapidity of microtubule turnover.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2635-2645
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 1997


  • Centrosome
  • Cultured cell
  • Dynamic
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Microtubule

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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