To follow the dynamics of microtubule (MT) assembly and disassembly during mitosis in living cells, tubulin has been covalently modified with the fluorochrome 5-(4,6-dichlorotriazin-2-yl)aminofluorescein and microinjected into fertilized eggs of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus. The changing distribution of the fluorescent protein probe is visualized in a fluorescence microscope coupled to an image intensification video system. Cells that have been injected with fluorescent tubulin show fluorescent linear polymers that assemble very rapidly and radiate from the spindle poles, coincident with the position of the astral fibers. No fluorescent polymer is apparent in other areas of the cytoplasm. When fluorescent tubulin is injected near the completion of anaphase, little incorporation of fluorescent tubulin into polymer is apparent, suggesting that new polymerization does not occur past a critical point in anaphase. These results demonstrate that MT polymerization is very rapid in vivo and that the assembly is both temporally and spatially regulated within the injected cells. Furthermore, the microinjected tubulin is stable within the sea urchin cytoplasm for at least 1 h since it can be reutilized in successive daughter cell spindles. Control experiments indicate that the observed fluorescence is dependent on MT assembly. The fluorescence is greatly diminished upon treatment of the cells with cold or colchicine agents known to cause the depolymerization of assembled MT. In addition, cells injected with fluorescent bovine serum albumin or assembly-incompetent fluorescent tubulin do not exhibit fluorescence localized in the spindle but rather appear diffusely fluorescent throughout the cytoplasm.

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