I have synthesized a novel derivative of carboxyfluorescein that is nonfluorescent, but can be converted to a fluorescent form by exposure to 365-nm light. This photoactivable, fluorescent probe was covalently attached to tubulin and microinjected into mitotic tissue culture cells, where it incorporated into functional spindles. To generate a fluorescent bar across the mitotic spindle, metaphase cells were irradiated with a slit microbeam. This bar decreased in intensity over the first minute, presumably due to turnover of nonkinetochore microtubules. The remaining fluorescent zones, now presumably restricted to kinetochore microtubules, moved polewards at 0.3-0.7 microns/min. This result provides strong evidence for polewards flux in kinetochore microtubules. In conjunction with earlier biotin-tubulin incorporation experiments (Mitchison, T. J., L. Evans, E. Schulze, and M. Kirschner. 1986. Cell. 45:515-527), I conclude that microtubules polymerize at kinetochores and depolymerize near the poles throughout metaphase. The significance of this observation for spindle structure and function is discussed. Local photoactivation of fluorescence should be a generally useful method for following molecular dynamics inside living cells.

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