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Curr Biol. 2011 Sep 27;21(18):1578-83. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.021. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

Organization of the smallest eukaryotic spindle.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


In metazoans, plants, and fungi, the spindle checkpoint delays mitosis until each chromosome is attached to one or more of its own kinetochore microtubules (kMTs). Some unicellular eukaryotes, however, have been reported to have fewer kMTs than chromosomes [1-5]. If this is the case, it is unclear how the spindle checkpoint could be satisfied. In the vast majority of the previous studies, mitotic cells were chemically fixed at room temperature, but this does not always preserve dynamic and/or small structures like spindle MTs and kinetochores [6]. Indeed, later higher-resolution studies have reversed some earlier claims [7-11]. Here we show that in Ostreococcus tauri (the smallest eukaryote known), mitosis does involve fewer spindle microtubules than chromosomes. O. tauri cultures were enriched for mitotic cells, high-pressure frozen, and then imaged in 3D both in plastic and in a near-native ("frozen-hydrated") state through electron tomography. Mitotic cells have a distinctive intranuclear heterochromatin-free "spindle tunnel" with approximately four short and occasionally one long, incomplete (unclosed) microtubule at each end of the spindle tunnel. Because other aspects of O. tauri's spindle checkpoint seem typical, these data suggest that O. tauri's 20 chromosomes are physically linked and segregated as just one or a small number of groups.

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