We have quantitatively studied the dynamic behavior of kinetochore fiber microtubules (kMTs); both turnover and poleward transport (flux) in metaphase and anaphase mammalian cells by fluorescence photoactivation. Tubulin derivatized with photoactivatable fluorescein was microinjected into prometaphase LLC-PK and PtK1 cells and allowed to incorporate to steady-state. A fluorescent bar was generated across the MTs in a half-spindle of the mitotic cells using laser irradiation and the kinetics of fluorescence redistribution were determined in terms of a double exponential decay process. The movement of the activated zone was also measured along with chromosome movement and spindle elongation. To investigate the possible regulation of MT transport at the metaphase-anaphase transition, we performed double photoactivation analyses on the same spindles as the cell advanced from metaphase to anaphase. We determined values for the turnover of kMTs (t1/2 = 7.1 +/- 2.4 min at 30 degrees C) and demonstrated that the turnover of kMTs in metaphase is approximately an order of magnitude slower than that for non-kMTs. In anaphase, kMTs become dramatically more stable as evidenced by a fivefold increase in the fluorescence redistribution half-time (t1/2 = 37.5 +/- 8.5 min at 30 degrees C). Our results also indicate that MT transport slows abruptly at anaphase onset to one-half the metaphase value. In early anaphase, MT depolymerization at the kinetochore accounted, on average, for 84% of the rate of chromosome movement toward the pole whereas the relative contribution of MT transport and depolymerization at the pole contributed 16%. These properties reflect a dramatic shift in the dynamic behavior of kMTs at the metaphase-anaphase transition. A release-capture model is presented in which the stability of kMTs is increased at the onset of anaphase through a reduction in the probability of MT release from the kinetochore. The reduction in MT transport at the metaphase-anaphase transition suggests that motor activity and/or subunit dynamics at the centrosome are subject to modulation at this key cell cycle point.

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