To assemble a bipolar spindle, microtubules emanating from two poles must bundle into an antiparallel midzone, where plus end–directed motors generate outward pushing forces to drive pole separation. Midzone cross-linkers and motors display only modest preferences for antiparallel filaments, and duplicated poles are initially tethered together, an arrangement that instead favors parallel interactions. Pivoting of microtubules around spindle poles might help overcome this geometric bias, but the intrinsic pivoting flexibility of the microtubule–pole interface has not been directly measured, nor has its importance during early spindle assembly been tested. By measuring the pivoting of microtubules around isolated yeast spindle poles, we show that pivoting flexibility can be modified by mutating a microtubule-anchoring pole component, Spc110. By engineering mutants with different flexibilities, we establish the importance of pivoting in vivo for timely pole separation. Our results suggest that passive thermal pivoting can bring microtubules from side-by-side poles into initial contact, but active minus end–directed force generation will be needed to achieve antiparallel alignment.

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