Low concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions have been shown to influence microtubule assembly in vitro. To test whether these cations also have an effect on microtubules in vivo, specimens of Actinosphaerium eichhorni were exposed to different concentrations of Ca++ and Mg++ and the divalent cation ionophore A23187. Experimental degradation and reformation of axopodia were studied by light and electron microscopy. In the presence of Ca++ and the ionophore axopodia gradually shorten, the rate of shortening depending on the concentrations of Ca++ and the ionophore used. Retraction of axopodia was observed with a concentration of Ca++ as low as 0.01 mM. After transfer to a Ca++-free solution containing EGTA, axopodia re-extend; the initial length is reached after about 2 h. Likewise, reformation of axopodia of cold-treated organisms is observed only in solutions of EGTA or Mg++, whereas it is completely inhibited in a Ca++ solution. Electron microscope studies demonstrate degradation of the axonemal microtubular array in organisms treated with Ca++ and A23187. No alteration was observed in organisms treated with Mg++ or EGTA plus ionophore. The results suggest that, in the presence of the ionophore, formation of axonemal microtubules can be regulated by varying the Ca++ concentration in the medium. Since A23187 tends to equilibrate the concentrations of divalent cations between external medium and cell interior, it is likely that microtubule formation invivo is influenced by micromolar concentrations of Ca++. These concentrations are low enough to be of physiological significance for a role in the regulation of microtubule assembly in vivo.

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