When viewed by light microscopy the mitotic spindle in newt pneumocytes assembles in an optically clear area of cytoplasm, virtually devoid of mitochondria and other organelles, which can be much larger than the forming spindle. This unique optical property has allowed us to examine the behavior of individual microtubules, at the periphery of asters in highly flattened living prometaphase cells, by video-enhanced differential interference-contrast light microscopy and digital image processing. As in interphase newt pneumocytes (Cassimeris, L., N. K. Pryer, and E. D. Salmon. 1988. J. Cell Biol. 107:2223-2231), centrosomal (i.e., astral) microtubules in prometaphase cells appear to exhibit dynamic instability, elongating at a mean rate of 14.3 +/- 5.1 microns/min (N = 19) and shortening at approximately 16 microns/min. Under favorable conditions the initial interaction between a kinetochore and the forming spindle can be directly observed. During this process the unattached chromosome is repeatedly probed by microtubules projecting from one of the polar regions. When one of these microtubules contacts the primary constriction the chromosome rapidly undergoes poleward translocation. Our observations on living mitotic cells directly demonstrate, for the first time, that chromosome attachment results from an interaction between astral microtubules and the kinetochore.

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