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Curr Biol. 2009 Jun 9;19(11):954-60. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.04.027. Epub 2009 May 7.

Effects of confinement on the self-organization of microtubules and motors.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)/University of Rennes 1, Institut de Physique de Rennes (IPR), UMR 6251, 35042 Rennes, France.


The regulation of the cytoskeleton is essential for the proper organization and function of eukaryotic cells. For instance, radial arrays of microtubules (MTs), called asters, determine the intracellular localization of organelles. Asters can be generated through either MT organizing center (MTOC)-dependent regulation or self-organization processes. In vivo, this occurs within the cell boundaries. How the properties of these boundaries affect MT organization is unknown. To approach this question, we studied the organization of microtubules inside droplets of eukaryotic cellular extracts with varying sizes and elastic properties. Our results show that the size of the droplet determined the final steady-state MT organization, which changed from symmetric asters to asymmetric semi-asters and, finally, to cortical bundles. A simple physical model recapitulated these results, identifying the main physical parameters of the transitions. The use of vesicles with more elastic boundaries resulted in very different morphologies of microtubule structures, such as asymmetrical semi-asters, "Y-branching" organizations, cortical-like bundles, "rackets," and bundled organizations. Our results highlight the importance of taking into account the physical characteristics of the cellular confinement to understand the formation of cytoskeleton structures in vivo.

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