The present experiments were designed to test whether the simple equilibrium assembly model proposed by Inoué could predict variations in spindle microtubule assembly in response to changes in hydrostatic pressure as it does for changes in temperature. The results were also analyzed according to a model based on nucleated condensation polymerization since this recently appears to be the mechanism by which purified brain microtubules are assembled in vitro. Equilibrium birefringence (BR) of the meiotic metaphase-arrested spindle was measured in vivo as a function of hydrostatic pressure and temperature in Chaetopterus oocytes using a miniature microscope pressure chamber. Increasing pressure in steps to 3,000 psi at temperatures below 22 degrees C did produce decreases in spindle equilibrium BR predictable directly from the simple equilibrium model of spindle assembly. Thermodynamic analysis of the pressure data yielded a value of delta V congruent to 400 ml/mol of polymerizing unit. Theoretical curves based on the nucleated condensation model can also be made to fit the data, but semilog plots of the dependence of the equilibrium constant versus pressure and versus reciprocal temperature are biphasic, suggesting that either the size of the polymerizing unit changes or more than one equilibrium constant governs the assembly reaction. That the same value of delta V, 90 ml/mol, was estimated from both the majority of the spindle BR data and data for the assembly of neural microtubules in vitro supports the possibility that spindle microtubules are assembled by a nucleated condensation mechanism.

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