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Journal of Molecular Biology 297, 1 (2000) 211-20
A reassessment of the factors affecting microtubule assembly and disassembly in vitro.
N. Caudron 1, O. Valiron, Yves Usson 2, P. Valiron 3, D. Job 1, 4

Current models of microtubule assembly from pure tubulin involve a nucleation phase followed by microtubule elongation at a constant polymer number. Both the rate of microtubule nucleation and elongation are thought to be tightly influenced by the free GTP-tubulin concentration, in a law of mass action-dependent manner. However, these basic hypotheses have remained largely untested due to a lack of data reporting actual measurements of the microtubule length and number concentration during microtubule assembly.Here, we performed simultaneous measurements of the polymeric tubulin concentration, of the free GTP-tubulin concentration, and of the microtubule length and number concentration in both polymerizing and depolymerizing conditions. In agreement with previous work we find that the microtubule nucleation rate is strongly dependent on the initial GTP-tubulin concentration. But we find that microtubule nucleation persists during microtubule elongation. At any given initial tubulin-GTP concentration, the microtubule nucleation rate remains constant during polymer assembly, despite the wide variation in free GTP-tubulin concentration. We also find a remarkable constancy of the rate of microtubule elongation during assembly. Apparently, the rate of microtubule elongation is intrinsic to the polymers, insensitive to large variations of the free GTP-tubulin concentration. Finally we observe that when, following assembly, microtubules depolymerize below the free GTP-tubulin critical concentration, the rate-limiting factor for disassembly is the frequency of microtubule catastrophe. At all time-points during disassembly, the microtubule catastrophe frequency is independent of the free GTP-tubulin concentration but, as the microtubule nucleation rate, is strongly dependent on the initial free GTP-tubulin concentration. We conclude that the dynamics of both microtubule assembly and disassembly depend largely on factors other than the free GTP-tubulin concentration. We propose that intrinsic structural factors and endogenous regulators, whose concentration varies with the initial conditions, are also major determinants of these dynamics.
1 :  Organisation Fonctionnelle du Cytosquelette
INSERM : U366 – Université Joseph Fourier - Grenoble I – CEA : DSV/IRTSV – IFR27
2 :  Techniques de l'Ingénierie Médicale et de la Complexité - Informatique, Mathématiques et Applications, Grenoble (TIMC-IMAG)
CNRS : UMR5525 – Université Joseph Fourier - Grenoble I
3 :  Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Grenoble (LAOG)
CNRS : UMR5571 – OSUG – INSU – Université Joseph Fourier - Grenoble I
4 :  Physiologie des plantes et des champignons lors de l'infection (UMR 2847)
CNRS : UMR2847 – Bayer Cropscience
Sciences du Vivant/Ingénierie biomédicale/Imagerie