MDCK cells form a polarized epithelium when they reach confluence in tissue culture. We have previously shown that concomitantly with the establishment of intercellular junctions, centrioles separate and microtubules lose their radial organization (Bacallao, R., C. Antony, C. Dotti, E. Karsenti, E.H.K. Stelzer, and K. Simons. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 109:2817-2832. Buendia, B., M.H. Bré, G. Griffiths, and E. Karsenti. 1990. 110:1123-1136). In this work, we have examined the pattern of microtubule nucleation before and after the establishment of intercellular contacts. We analyzed the elongation rate and stability of microtubules in single and confluent cells. This was achieved by microinjection of Paramecium axonemal tubulin and detection of the newly incorporated subunits by an antibody directed specifically against the Paramecium axonemal tubulin. The determination of newly nucleated microtubule localization has been made possible by the use of advanced double-immunofluorescence confocal microscopy. We have shown that in single cells, newly nucleated microtubules originate from several sites concentrated in a region localized close to the nucleus and not from a single spot that could correspond to a pair of centrioles. In confluent cells, newly nucleated microtubules were still more dispersed. The microtubule elongation rate of individual microtubules was not different in single and confluent cells (4 microns/min). However, in confluent cells, the population of long lived microtubules was strongly increased. In single or subconfluent cells most microtubules showed a t1/2 of less than 30 min, whereas in confluent monolayers, a large population of microtubules had a t1/2 of greater than 2 h. These results, together with previous observations cited above, indicate that during the establishment of polarity in MDCK cells, microtubule reorganization involves both a relocalization of microtubule-nucleating activity and increased microtubule stabilization.

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