The mitotic spindle of many mammalian cells undergoes an abrupt elongation at anaphase. In both cultured rat kangaroo (strain PtK1) and Chinese hamster (strain Don-C) fibroblasts, the distance from pole to pole at metaphase doubles during anaphase and telophase. In order to determine the organization and distribution of spindle microtubules during the elongation process, cells were fixed and flat embedded in Epon 812. Selected cells were photographed with the phase-contrast microscope and then serially sectioned perpendicular to the major spindle axis. Microtubule profiles were counted in selected sections, and the number was plotted with respect to position along the spindle axis. Interpretation of the distribution profiles indicated that not all interpolar microtubules extended from pole to pole. It is estimated that 55–70% of the interpolar microtubules are overlapped at the cell equator while 30–45% extend across the equator into both half spindles. This arrangement appeared to persist from early anaphase (before elongation) until telophase after the elongation process. Although sliding or shearing of microtubules may occur in the spindle, such appears not to be the mechanism by which the spindle elongates in anaphase. Instead, our data support the hypothesis that spindle elongation occurs by growth of prepositioned microtubules which "push" the poles apart.

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