Most models of mitotic congression and segregation assume that only poleward pulling forces occur at kinetochores. However, there are reports for several different cell types that both mono-oriented and bi-oriented chromosomes oscillate toward and away from the pole throughout mitosis. We used new methods of high resolution video microscopy and computer-assisted tracking techniques to measure the positions over time of individual kinetochores with respect to their poles during mitosis in living newt lung cells. The results show that kinetochores oscillate throughout mitosis when they are tethered to spindle poles by attachment to the plus-ends of kinetochore microtubules (kMTs). Oscillations were not sinusoidal. Instead, kinetochores abruptly (as quick as 6 s or less) switched between persistent (approximately 1.5 min average duration) phases of poleward (P) and away from the pole (AP) movement. This kinetochore "directional instability" was a property of motility at the plus-ends of kMTs since fluorescent marks on the lattice of kMTs have previously been observed to exhibit only relatively slow P movement. Each P and AP phase consisted of one or a few constant velocity domains (approximately 1.7 microns/min average velocity). Velocities of P and AP phases were similar from prometaphase through mid-anaphase. Kinetochores occasionally switched to an indeterminant (N) phase of no or confused motion, which was usually brief compared to the durations of P and AP phases. Net chromosome displacements that occurred during congression to the equator or poleward movement during anaphase were primarily generated by differences in the durations and not the velocities of P and AP movements. Careful analysis of centromere deformation showed that kinetochore P movement produced pulling forces while kinetochore AP movement produced pushing forces. These data show that kinetochore directional instability is fundamental to the processes of chromosome congression and segregation. We argue that tension at the kinetochore attachment site is a key factor which controls the switching between P and AP phases of kinetochore motion.

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