In normal anaphase of crane fly spermatocytes, the autosomes traverse most of the distance to the poles at a constant, temperature-dependent velocity. Concurrently, the birefringent kinetochore fibers shorten while retaining a constant birefringent retardation (BR) and width over most of the fiber length as the autosomes approach the centrosome region. To test the dynamic equilibrium model of chromosome poleward movement, we abruptly cooled or heated primary spermatocytes of the crane fly Nephrotoma ferruginea (and the grasshopper Trimerotropis maritima) during early anaphase. According to this model, abrupt cooling should induce transient depolymerization of the kinetochore fiber microtubules, thus producing a transient acceleration in the poleward movement of the autosomal chromosomes, provided the poles remain separated. Abrupt changes in temperature from 22 degrees C to as low as 4 degrees C or as high as 31 degrees C in fact produced immediate changes in chromosome velocity to new constant velocities. No transient changes in velocity were observed. At 4 degrees C (10 degrees C for grasshopper cells), chromosome movement ceased. Although no nonkinetochore fiber BR remained at these low temperatures, kinetochore fiber BR had changed very little. The cold stability of the kinetochore fiber microtubules, the constant velocity character of chromosome movement, and the observed Arrhenius relationship between temperature and chromosome velocity indicate that a rate-limiting catalyzed process is involved in the normal anaphase depolymerization of the spindle fiber microtubules. On the basis of our birefringence observations, the kinetochore fiber microtubules appear to exist in a steady-state balance between comparatively irreversible, and probably different, physiological pathways of polymerization and depolymerization.

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