The spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) prevents anaphase until all kinetochores attach to the spindle. Each mammalian kinetochore binds many microtubules, but how many attached microtubules are required to turn off the checkpoint, and how the kinetochore monitors microtubule numbers, are not known and are central to understanding SAC mechanisms and function. To address these questions, here we systematically tune and fix the fraction of Hec1 molecules capable of microtubule binding. We show that Hec1 molecules independently bind microtubules within single kinetochores, but that the kinetochore does not independently process attachment information from different molecules. Few attached microtubules (20% occupancy) can trigger complete Mad1 loss, and Mad1 loss is slower in this case. Finally, we show using laser ablation that individual kinetochores detect changes in microtubule binding, not in spindle forces that accompany attachment. Thus, the mammalian kinetochore responds specifically to the binding of each microtubule and counts microtubules as a single unit in a sensitive and switch-like manner. This may allow kinetochores to rapidly react to early attachments and maintain a robust SAC response despite dynamic microtubule numbers.

This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike–No Mirror Sites license for the first six months after the publication date (see After six months it is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 4.0 International license, as described at
You do not currently have access to this content.