We have investigated the differences in microtubule assembly in cytoplasm from Xenopus oocytes and eggs in vitro. Extracts of activated eggs could be prepared that assembled extensive microtubule networks in vitro using Tetrahymena axonemes or mammalian centrosomes as nucleation centers. Assembly occurred predominantly from the plus-end of the microtubule with a rate constant of 2 microns.min-1.microM-1 (57 s-1.microM-1). At the in vivo tubulin concentration, this corresponds to the extraordinarily high rate of 40-50 microns.min-1. Microtubule disassembly rates in these extracts were -4.5 microns.min-1 (128 s-1) at the plus-end and -6.9 microns.min-1 (196 s-1) at the minus-end. The critical concentration for plus-end microtubule assembly was 0.4 microM. These extracts also promoted the plus-end assembly of microtubules from bovine brain tubulin, suggesting the presence of an assembly promoting factor in the egg. In contrast to activated eggs, assembly was never observed in extracts prepared from oocytes, even at tubulin concentrations as high as 20 microM. Addition of oocyte extract to egg extracts or to purified brain tubulin inhibited microtubule assembly. These results suggest that there is a plus-end-specific inhibitor of microtubule assembly in the oocyte and a plus-end-specific promoter of assembly in the eggs. These factors may serve to regulate microtubule assembly during early development in Xenopus.

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