Locomoting cells are characterized by a pronounced external and internal anterior-posterior polarity. One of the events associated with cell polarization at the onset of locomotion is a shift of the centrosome, or MTOC, ahead of the nucleus. This position is believed to be of strategic importance for directional cell movement and cell polarity. We have used BSC-1 cells at the edge of an in vitro wound to clarify the causal relationship between MTOC position and the initiation of cell polarization. We find that pronounced cell polarization (the extension of a lamellipod) can take place in the absence of MTOC repositioning or microtubules. Conversely, MTOCs will reposition even after lamellar extension and cell polarization have occurred. Repositioning requires microtubules that extend to the cell periphery and is independent of selective detyrosination of microtubules extending towards the cell front. Significantly, MTOCs maintain, or at least attempt to maintain, a position at the cell's centroid. This is most clearly demonstrated in wounded monolayers of enucleated cells where the MTOC closely follows the centroid position. We suggest that the primary response to the would is the biased extension of a lamellipod, which can occur in the absence of microtubules and MTOC repositioning. Lamellipod extension leads to a shift of the cell's centroid towards the wound. The MTOC, in an attempt to maintain a position near the cell center, will follow. This will automatically put the MTOC ahead of the nucleus in the vast majority of cells. The nucleus as a reference for MTOC position may not be as meaningful as previously thought.

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