The dynamics of microtubules in cultured cells

I. A. Vorobjev, I. S. Grigor'ev, G. G. Borisy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The behavior of microtubules in cultured cells in a cooled matrix after the microinjection of fluorescent tubulin was studied using a frame recording by a digital camcorder. In the cell lamella, thepositive ends of individual microtubules extend and shorten at random. The histograms of rate distribution have an almost normal distribution with a mode around 0. The maximum rate of lengthening and shortening reaches 30 and 50 μm/min, respectively.1 The positive ends of microtubules in PtK1 cells were in an equilibrium state, while in murine embryonic fibroblasts and Vero cells, they were displaced, usually, to the cell edge. Free microtubules were present in the cells of all three cultures. In the epithelial cells, they were numerous and relatively stable, while in the fibroblasts, they occurred rarely and were depolymerized at the proximal end. Free microtubules in PtK1 cells appeared, mostly, due to spontaneous assembly in the cytoplasm, not in the relationship with the prexisting microtubules, and, more rarely, due to breakage of long microtubules. Separation of microtubules from the centrosome is a very rare event. Unlike positive ends that were characterized by dynamic instability, negative ends were stable and were sometimes depolymerized. When long microtubules were broken, new negativeends were formed that were, as a rule, stable, while in the lamella of fibroblasts (in murine embryonic fibroblasts and Vero cells), new negativeends were immediately depolymerized: free microtubules existed in these cells no more than 1-2 min. A diffusion model has been proposed where the behavior of rhicrotubule ends is considered as unidfmensional diffusion. The coefficient of diffusion of positive ends in the epithelial cells is several times less than in the fibroblasts, thus suggesting a higher rate of tubulin metabolism in the fibroblasts, as compared to the epithelium. The results obtained indicate that for the exchange of long microtubules, the dynamic instability is not sufficient. In the fibroblasts, their exchange takes place, mostly, at the expense of depolymerization of the liberating negative ends, which agrees with the previously proposed conveyer hypothesis of microtubule assembly on the centrosome. .

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-428
Number of pages9
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2000


  • Cultured cells
  • Diffusion
  • Dynamic instability
  • Microtubules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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