Metaphase and anaphase spindles in cultured newt and PtK1 cells were irradiated with a UV microbeam (285 nM), creating areas of reduced birefringence (ARBs) in 3 s that selectively either severed a few fibers or cut across the half spindle. In either case, the birefringence at the polewards edge of the ARB rapidly faded polewards, while it remained fairly constant at the other, kinetochore edge. Shorter astral fibers, however, remained present in the enlarged ARB; presumably these had not been cut by the irradiation. After this enlargement of the ARB, metaphase spindles recovered rapidly as the detached pole moved back towards the chromosomes, reestablishing spindle fibers as the ARB closed; this happened when the ARB cut a few fibers or across the entire half spindle. We never detected elongation of the cut kinetochore fibers. Rather, astral fibers growing from the pole appeared to bridge and then close the ARB, just before the movement of the pole toward the chromosomes. When a second irradiation was directed into the closing ARB, the polewards movement again stopped before it restarted. In all metaphase cells, once the pole had reestablished connection with the chromosomes, the unirradiated half spindle then also shortened to create a smaller symmetrical spindle capable of normal anaphase later. Anaphase cells did not recover this way; the severed pole remained detached but the chromosomes continued a modified form of movement, clumping into a telophase-like group. The results are discussed in terms of controls operating on spindle microtubule stability and mechanisms of mitotic force generation.

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