Central mitotic spindles in Diatoma vulgare have been investigated using serial sections and electron microscopy. Spindles at both early stages (before metaphase) and later stages of mitosis (metaphase to telophase) have been analyzed. We have used computer graphics technology to facilitate the analysis and to produce stereo images of the central spindle reconstructed in three dimensions. We find that at prometaphase, when the nuclear envelope is dissassembling, the spindle is constructed from two sets of polar microtubules (MTs) that interdigitate to form a zone of overlap. As the chromosomes become organized into the metaphase configuration, the polar MTs, the spindle, and the zone of overlap all elongate, while the number of MTs in the central spindle decreases from greater than 700 to approximately 250. Most of the tubules lost are short ones that reside near the spindle poles. The previously described decrease in the length of the zone of overlap during anaphase central spindle elongation is clearly demonstrated in stereo images. In addition, we have used our three-dimensional data to determine the lengths of the spindle MTs at various times during mitotis. The distribution of lengths is bimodal during prometaphase, but the short tubules disappear and the long tubules elongate as mitosis proceeds. The distributions of MT lengths are compared to the length distributions of MTs polymerized in vitro, and a model is presented to account for our findings about both MT length changes and microtubule movements.

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