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J Cell Sci. 2012 Jun 1;125(Pt 11):2561-9. doi: 10.1242/jcs.101139. Epub 2012 May 17.

Microtubule-severing enzymes at the cutting edge.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


ATP-dependent severing of microtubules was first reported in Xenopus laevis egg extracts in 1991. Two years later this observation led to the purification of the first known microtubule-severing enzyme, katanin. Katanin homologs have now been identified throughout the animal kingdom and in plants. Moreover, members of two closely related enzyme subfamilies, spastin and fidgetin, have been found to sever microtubules and might act alongside katanins in some contexts (Roll-Mecak and McNally, 2010; Yu et al., 2008; Zhang et al., 2007). Over the past few years, it has become clear that microtubule-severing enzymes contribute to a wide range of cellular activities including mitosis and meiosis, morphogenesis, cilia biogenesis and disassembly, and migration. Thus, this group of enzymes is revealing itself to be among the most important of the microtubule regulators. This Commentary focuses on our growing understanding of how microtubule-severing enzymes contribute to the organization and dynamics of diverse microtubule arrays, as well as the structural and biophysical characteristics that afford them the unique capacity to catalyze the removal of tubulin from the interior microtubule lattice. Our goal is to provide a broader perspective, focusing on a limited number of particularly informative, representative and/or timely findings.

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