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Biophys J. 2008 Aug;95(3):1474-86. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.128223. Epub 2008 Apr 25.

Three-dimensional microtubule behavior in Xenopus egg extracts reveals four dynamic states and state-dependent elastic properties.

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Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany.


Although microtubules are key players in many cellular processes, very little is known about their dynamic and mechanical properties in physiological three-dimensional environments. The conventional model of microtubule dynamic instability postulates two dynamic microtubule states, growth and shrinkage. However, several studies have indicated that such a model does not provide a comprehensive quantitative and qualitative description of microtubule behavior. Using three-dimensional laser light-sheet fluorescence microscopy and a three-dimensional sample preparation in spacious Teflon cylinders, we measured microtubule dynamic instability and elasticity in interphase Xenopus laevis egg extracts. Our data are inconsistent with a two-state model of microtubule dynamic instability and favor an extended four-state model with two independent metastable pause states over a three-state model with a single pause state. Moreover, our data on kinetic state transitions rule out a simple GTP cap model as the driving force of microtubule stabilization in egg extracts on timescales of a few seconds or longer. We determined the three-dimensional elastic properties of microtubules as a function of both the contour length and the dynamic state. Our results indicate that pausing microtubules are less flexible than growing microtubules and suggest a growth-speed-dependent persistence length. These data might hint toward mechanisms that enable microtubules to efficiently perform multiple different tasks in the cell and suggest the development of a unified model of microtubule dynamics and microtubule mechanics.

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