Changes in birefringence retardation (BR) and length of Chaetopterus meiotic metaphase-arrested spindles produced by increased hydrostatic pressure were observed with polarized-light microscopy using a newly developed optical pressure chamber. Increased pressure produced rapid, reversible decreases in spindle BR and length. Pressures of 3,500 psi or higher at 22 degrees C caused complete disappearance of spindle BR within 3 min. Up to 6,000 psi, the rates of both BR decay and spindle shortening increased progressively with increasing pressure. At 6,000 psi or above, the BR decreased rapidly but there was no evidence of spindle shortening. The general observations are consistent with results of earlier classical experiments on effects of pressure on mitosis, and with experiments that used colchicine or low temperature as microtubule-depolymerizing agents. The kinetics of spindle depolymerization and repolymerization showed two phases: an initial phase of rapid decreases or increase in half-spindle microtubule BR; and a second phase of nearly constant BR during which most of the spindle shortening or growth occurs. BR is assumed to be directly related to the number of microtubules in a spindle cross section. It is hypothesized that microtubules in the spindle have different stabilities depending on the attachment of nonattachment of their ends. This hypothesis is used to explain the two phases of spindle depolymerization and repolymerization as well as several other observations.

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