We used high-resolution video microscopy to visualize microtubule dynamic instability in extracts of interphase sea urchin eggs and to analyze the changes that occur upon addition of 0.8-2.5 microM okadaic acid, an inhibitor of phosphatase 1 and 2A (PP1, PP2a) (Bialojan, D., and A. Takai. 1988. Biochem. J. 256:283-290). Microtubule plus-ends in these extracts oscillated between the elongation and shortening phases of dynamic instability at frequencies typical for interphase cells. Switching from elongation to shortening (catastrophe) was frequent, but microtubules persisted and grew long because of frequent switching back to elongation (rescue). Addition of okadaic acid to the extract induced rapid (< 5 min) conversion to short, dynamic microtubules typical of mitosis. The frequency of catastrophe doubled and the velocities of elongation and shortening increased slightly; however, the major change was an elimination of rescue. Thus, modulation of the rescue frequency by phosphorylation-dependent mechanisms may be a major regulatory pathway for selectively controlling microtubule dynamics without dramatically changing velocities of microtubule elongation and shortening.

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