The rate of exchange of tubulin that is incorporated into spindle microtubules with dimeric tubulin in the cytoplasm has been measured in sea urchin eggs by studying fluorescence redistribution after photobleaching (FRAP). Dichlorotriazinyl amino fluorescein (DTAF) has been used to label bovine brain tubulin. DTAF-tubulin has been injected into fertilized eggs of Lytechinus variegatus and allowed to equilibrate with the endogenous tubulin pool. Fluorescent spindles formed at the same time that spindles were seen in control eggs, and the injected embryos proceeded through many cycles of division on schedule, suggesting that DTAF-tubulin is a good analogue of tubulin in vivo. A microbeam of argon laser light has been used to bleach parts of the fluorescent spindles, and FRAP has been recorded with a sensitive video camera. Laser bleaching did not affect spindle structure, as seen with polarization optics, nor spindle function, as seen by rate of progress through mitosis, even when one spindle was bleached several times in a single cell cycle. Video image analysis has been used to measure the rate of FRAP and to obtain a low resolution view of the fluorescence redistribution process. The half-time for spindle FRAP is approximately 19 s, even when an entire half-spindle is bleached. Complete exchange of tubulin in nonkinetochore spindle and astral microtubules appeared to occur within 60-80 s at steady state. This rate is too fast to be explained by a simple microtubule end-dependent exchange of tubulin. Efficient microtubule treadmilling would be fast enough, but with current techniques we saw no evidence for movement of the bleached spot during recovery, which we would expect on the basis of Margolis and Wilson's model (Nature (Lond.)., 1981, 293:705)--fluorescence recovers uniformly. Microtubules may be depolymerizing and repolymerizing rapidly and asynchronously throughout the spindle and asters, but the FRAP data are most compatible with a rapid exchange of tubulin subunits all along the entire lengths of nonkinetochore spindle and astral microtubules.

This content is only available as a PDF.