Dynamic microtubules slow down during their shrinkage phase

Anna Luchniak, Yin Wei Kuo, Catherine McGuinness, Sabyasachi Sutradhar, Ron Orbach, Mohammed Mahamdeh, Jonathon Howard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Microtubules are dynamic polymers that undergo stochastic transitions between growing and shrinking phases. The structural and chemical properties of these phases remain poorly understood. The transition from growth to shrinkage, termed catastrophe, is not a first-order reaction but rather a multistep process whose frequency increases with the growth time: the microtubule ages as the older microtubule tip becomes more unstable. Aging shows that the growing phase is not a single state but comprises several substates of increasing instability. To investigate whether the shrinking phase is also multistate, we characterized the kinetics of microtubule shrinkage following catastrophe using an in vitro reconstitution assay with purified tubulins. We found that the shrinkage speed is highly variable across microtubules and that the shrinkage speed of individual microtubules slows down over time by as much as several fold. The shrinkage slowdown was observed in both fluorescently labeled and unlabeled microtubules as well as in microtubules polymerized from tubulin purified from different species, suggesting that the shrinkage slowdown is a general property of microtubules. These results indicate that microtubule shrinkage, like catastrophe, is time dependent and that the shrinking microtubule tip passes through a succession of states of increasing stability. We hypothesize that the shrinkage slowdown is due to destabilizing events that took place during growth, which led to multistep catastrophe. This suggests that the aging associated with growth is also manifested during shrinkage, with the older, more unstable growing tip being associated with a faster depolymerizing shrinking tip.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)616-623
Number of pages8
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jan 2023
StatePublished - 21 Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

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© 2023 Biophysical Society


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