To study the role of the centrosome in microtubule organization in interphase cells, we developed a method for obtaining cytoplasts (cells lacking a nucleus) that did or did not contain centrosomes. After drug-induced microtubule depolymerization, cytoplasts with centrosomes made from sparsely plated cells reconstituted a microtubule array typical of normal cells. Under these conditions cytoplasts without centrosomes formed only a few scattered microtubules. This difference in degree of polymerization suggests that centrosomes affect not only the distribution but the amount of microtubules in cells. To our surprise, the extent of microtubules assembled increased with the cell density of the original culture. At confluent density, cytoplasts without centrosomes had many microtubules, equivalent to cytoplasts with centrosomes. The additional microtubules were arranged peripherally and differed from the centrosomal microtubules in their sensitivity to nocodazole. These and other results suggest that the centrosome stabilizes microtubules in the cell, perhaps by capping one end. Microtubules with greater sensitivity to nocodazole arise by virtue of change in the growth state of the cell and may represent free or uncapped polymers. These experiments suggest that the spatial arrangement of microtubules may change by shifting the total tubulin concentration or the critical concentration for assembly.

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