We analyzed the role that chromosomes, kinetochores, and centrosomes play in spindle assembly in living grasshopper spermatocytes by reconstructing spindles lacking certain components. We used video-enhanced, polarization microscopy to distinguish the effect of each component on spindle microtubule dynamics and we discovered that both chromosomes and centrosomes make potent and very different contributions to the organization of the spindle. Remarkably, the position of a single chromosome can markedly affect the distribution of microtubules within a spindle or even alter the fate of spindle assembly. In an experimentally constructed spindle having only one chromosome, moving the chromosome to one of the two poles induces a dramatic assembly of microtubules at the nearer pole and a concomitant disassembly at the farther pole. So long as a spindle carries a single chromosome it will persist normally. A spindle will also persist even when all chromosomes are detached and then removed from the cell. If, however, a single chromosome remains in the cell but is detached from the spindle and kept in the cytoplasm, the spindle disassembles. One might expect the effect of chromosomes on spindle assembly to relate to a property of a specific site on each chromosome, perhaps the kinetochore. We have ruled out that possibility by showing that it is the size of chromosomes rather than the number of kinetochores that matters. Although chromosomes affect spindle assembly, they cannot organize a spindle in the absence of centrosomes. In contrast, centrosomes can organize a functional bipolar spindle in the absence of chromosomes. If both centrosomes and chromosomes are removed from the cell, the spindle quickly disappears.

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