This article summarizes our current views on the dynamic structure of the mitotic spindle and its relation to mitotic chromosome movements. The following statements are based on measurements of birefringence of spindle fibers in living cells, normally developing or experimentally modified by various physical and chemical agents, including high and low temperatures, antimitotic drugs, heavy water, and ultraviolet microbeam irradiation. Data were also obtained concomitantly with electron microscopy employing a new fixative and through measurements of isolated spindle protein. Spindle fibers in living cells are labile dynamic structures whose constituent filaments (microtubules) undergo cyclic breakdown and reformation. The dynamic state is maintained by an equilibrium between a pool of protein molecules and their linearly aggregated polymers, which constitute the microtubules or filaments. In living cells under physiological conditions, the association of the molecules into polymers is very weak (absolute value of ΔF25°C < 1 kcal), and the equilibrium is readily shifted to dissociation by low temperature or by high hydrostatic pressure. The equilibrium is shifted toward formation of polymer by increase in temperature (with a large increase in entropy: ΔS25°C ≃ 100 eu) or by the addition of heavy water. The spindle proteins tend to polymerize with orienting centers as their geometrical foci. The centrioles, kinetochores, and cell plate act as orienting centers successively during mitosis. Filaments are more concentrated adjacent to an orienting center and yield higher birefringence. Astral rays, continuous fibers, chromosomal fibers, and phragmoplast fibers are thus formed by successive reorganization of the same protein molecules. During late prophase and metaphase, polymerization takes place predominantly at the kinetochores; in metaphase and anaphase, depolymerization is prevalent near the spindle poles. When the concentration of spindle protein is high, fusiform bundles of polymer are precipitated out even in the absence of obvious orienting centers. The shift of equilibrium from free protein molecules to polymer increases the length and number of the spindle microtubules or filaments. Slow depolymerization of the polymers, which can be brought about by low concentrations of colchicine or by gradual cooling, allows the filaments to shorten and perform work. The dynamic equilibrium controlled by orienting centers and other factors provides a plasusible mechanism by which chromosomes and other organelles, as well as the cell surface, are deformed or moved by temporarily organized arrays of microtubules or filaments.

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