Life cycle of MTs: Persistent growth in the cell interior, asymmetric transition frequencies and effects of the cell boundary

Yulia A. Komarova, Ivan A. Vorobjev, Gary G. Borisy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Citations (Scopus)


Microtubule dynamics were investigated in CHO and NRK cells by novel experimental approaches designed to evaluate the microtubule behavior in the cell interior. These approaches were: (1) laser photobleaching of a path through tht centrosome; (2) direct observation of microtubules in centrosome-containing cytoplasts; (3) GFP-CLIP-170 expression as a marker for microtubule plus end growth; and (iv) sequential subtraction analysis. The combination of these approaches allowed us to obtain data where the density of microtubules had previously prevented conventional methods to be applicable. In the steady state, nascent microtubules grew persistently from the centrosome towards the cell margin. Frequently, they arrived at the cell margin without undergoing any transition to the shortening phase. In contrast to the growth of microtubules, shortening of the plus ends from the periphery was non-persistent; that is, rescue was, frequent and the extent of shortening showed a distribution of lengths reflecting a stochastic process. The combination of persistent growth and a cell boundary led to a difference in apparent microtubule behavior in the cell interior compared with that near the cell margin. Whereas microtubules in the cell interior showed asymmetric transition frequencies, their behavior near the cell margin showed frequent fluctuations between phases of shortening and growth. Complete microtubule turnover was accomplished by the relatively rare episodes of shortening back to the centrosome. Release from the centrosome with subsequent minus end shortening also occurred but was a minor mechanism for microtubule turnover compared with the plus end pathway. We propose a life cycle for a microtubule which consists of rapid growth from the centrosome to the cell margin followed by an indefinite period of fluctuations of phases of shortening and growth. We suggest that persistent growth and asymmetric transition frequencies serve the biological function of providing a mechanism by which microtubules may rapidly accommodate to the changing shape and advancing edge of motile cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3527-3539
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2002


  • Dynamics
  • Mammalian cell culture line
  • Microtubules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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