Dynamic organization of microtubule minus ends is vital for the formation and maintenance of acentrosomal microtubule arrays. In vitro, both microtubule ends switch between phases of assembly and disassembly, a behavior called dynamic instability. Although minus ends grow slower, their lifetimes are similar to those of plus ends. The mechanisms underlying these distinct dynamics remain unknown. Here, we use an in vitro reconstitution approach to investigate minus-end dynamics. We find that minus-end lifetimes are not defined by the mean size of the protective GTP-tubulin cap. Rather, we conclude that the distinct tubulin off-rate is the primary determinant of the difference between plus- and minus-end dynamics. Further, our results show that the minus-end–directed kinesin-14 HSET/KIFC1 suppresses tubulin off-rate to specifically suppress minus-end catastrophe. HSET maintains its protective minus-end activity even when challenged by a known microtubule depolymerase, kinesin-13 MCAK. Our results provide novel insight into the mechanisms of minus-end dynamics, essential for our understanding of microtubule minus-end regulation in cells.

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