Different types of unusual dynamic behavior have been reported for steady-state microtubules. While almost all earlier reports relied on kinetic measurements of bulk polymerization, we have directly visualized the steady-state addition of subunits to individual microtubules through the use of tubulin derivitized with biotin. Biotinylated tubulin was used both as an internal "seed" for polymerization and as a marker for assembly onto the ends of microtubules composed of purified tubulin. Biotinylated segments were distinguished from unmodified tubulin by double-label immunofluorescence. Microtubule lengths, number concentrations, and segment lengths have been monitored with time at steady state under two buffer conditions. The results indicate that the microtubule steady state under these conditions is a balance between a majority of slowly growing microtubules and a minority of rapidly depolymerizing ones as described by the "dynamic instability" model (Mitchison T., and M. Kirschner, 1984, Nature (Lond.)., 312:232-242). Microtubules show no evidence of treadmilling; instead most show progressive growth off both ends at steady state. Although solvent conditions markedly influence the growth rates, qualitatively the behavior is unchanged.

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