Hook decoration with pig brain tubulin was used to assess the polarity of microtubules which mainly have 15 protofilaments in the transcellular bundles of late pupal Drosophila wing epidermal cells. The microtubules make end-on contact with cell surfaces. Most microtubules in each bundle exhibited a uniform polarity. They were oriented with their minus ends associated with their hemidesmosomal anchorage points at the apical cuticle-secreting surfaces of the cells. Plus ends were directed towards, and were sometimes connected to, basal attachment desmosomes at the opposite ends of the cells. The orientation of microtubules at cell apices, with minus ends directed towards the cell surface, is opposite to the polarity anticipated for microtubules which have elongated centrifugally from centrosomes. It is consistent, however, with evidence that microtubule assembly is nucleated by plasma membrane-associated sites at the apical surfaces of the cells (Mogensen, M. M., and J. B. Tucker. 1987. J. Cell Sci. 88:95-107) after these cells have lost their centriole-containing, centrosomal, microtubule-organizing centers (Tucker, J. B., M. J. Milner, D. A. Currie, J. W. Muir, D. A. Forrest, and M.-J. Spencer. 1986. Eur. J. Cell Biol. 41:279-289). Our findings indicate that the plus ends of many of these apically nucleated microtubules are captured by the basal desmosomes. Hence, the situation may be analogous to the polar-nucleation/chromosomal-capture scheme for kinetochore microtubule assembly in mitotic and meiotic spindles. The cell surface-associated nucleation-elongation-capture mechanism proposed here may also apply during assembly of transcellular microtubule arrays in certain other animal tissue cell types.

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