Recent experiments have demonstrated that the behavior of the interphase microtubule array is cell-type specific: microtubules in epithelial cells are less dynamic than microtubules in fibroblasts (Pepper-kok et al., 1990; Wadsworth and McGrail, 1990). To determine which parameters of microtubule dynamic instability behavior are responsible for this difference, we have examined the behavior of individual microtubules in both cell types after injection with rhodamine-labeled tubulin subunits. Individual microtubules in both cell types were observed to grow, shorten, and pause, as expected. The average amount of time microtubules remained within the lamellae of CHO fibroblasts, measured from images acquired at 10-s intervals, was significantly shorter than the average amount of time microtubules remained within lamellae of PtK1 epithelial cells. Further analysis of individual microtubule behavior from images acquired at 2-s intervals reveals that microtubules in PtK1 cells undergo multiple brief episodes of growth and shortening, resulting in little overall change in the microtubule network. In contrast, microtubules in lamellae of CHO fibroblasts are observed to undergo fewer transitions which are of longer average duration, resulting in substantial changes in the microtubule network over time. A small subset of more stable microtubules was also detected in CHO fibroblasts. Quantification of the various parameters of dynamic instability behavior from these sequences demonstrates that the average rates of both growth and shortening are significantly greater for the majority of microtubules in fibroblasts than for microtubules in epithelial cells (19.8 +/- 10.8 microns/min, 32.2 +/- 17.7 microns/min, 11.9 +/- 6.5 microns/min, and 19.7 +/- 8.1 microns/min, respectively). The frequency of catastrophe events (1/interval between catastrophe events) was similar in both cell types, but the frequency of rescue events (1/time spent shrinking) was significantly higher in PtK1 cells. Thus, individual microtubules in PtK1 lamellae undergo frequent excursions of short duration and extent, whereas most microtubules in CHO lamellae undergo more extensive excursions often resulting in the appearance or disappearance of microtubules within the field of view. These observations provide the first direct demonstration of cell-type specific behavior of individual microtubules in living cells, and indicate that these differences can be brought about by modulation of the frequency of rescue. These results directly support the view that microtubule dynamic instability behavior is regulated in a cell-type specific manner.

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