Mitchison Timothy J.

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Timothy J.

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Now showing 1 - 16 of 16
  • Preprint
    Compression regulates mitotic spindle length by a mechanochemical switch at the poles
    ( 2009-05) Dumont, Sophie ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Although the molecules involved in mitosis are becoming better characterized, we still lack an understanding of the emergent mechanical properties of the mitotic spindle. For example, we cannot explain how spindle length is determined. To gain insight into how forces are generated and responded to in the spindle, we developed a method to apply controlled mechanical compression to metaphase mitotic spindles in living mammalian cells, while monitoring microtubules and kinetochores by fluorescence microscopy. Compression caused reversible spindle widening and lengthening to a new steadystate. Widening was a passive mechanical response, and lengthening an active mechanochemical process requiring microtubule polymerization but not kinesin-5 activity. Spindle morphology during lengthening and drug perturbations suggested that kinetochore fibers are pushed outwards by pole-directed forces generated within the spindle. Lengthening of kinetochore fibers occurred by inhibition of microtubule depolymerization at poles, with no change in sliding velocity, interkinetochore stretching, or kinetochore dynamics. We propose that spindle length is controlled by a mechanochemical switch at the poles that regulates the depolymerization rate of kinetochore-fibers in response to compression, and discuss models for how this switch is controlled. Poleward force appears to be exerted along kinetochore fibers by some mechanism other than kinesin-5 activity, and we speculate that it may arise from polymerization pressure from growing plus-ends of interpolar microtubules whose minus-ends are anchored in the fiber. These insights provide a framework for conceptualizing mechanical integration within the spindle.
  • Article
    Physical basis of large microtubule aster growth
    (eLife, 2016-11-28) Ishihara, Keisuke ; Korolev, Kirill S. ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Microtubule asters - radial arrays of microtubules organized by centrosomes - play a fundamental role in the spatial coordination of animal cells. The standard model of aster growth assumes a fixed number of microtubules originating from the centrosomes. However, aster morphology in this model does not scale with cell size, and we recently found evidence for non-centrosomal microtubule nucleation. Here, we combine autocatalytic nucleation and polymerization dynamics to develop a biophysical model of aster growth. Our model predicts that asters expand as traveling waves and recapitulates all major aspects of aster growth. With increasing nucleation rate, the model predicts an explosive transition from stationary to growing asters with a discontinuous jump of the aster velocity to a nonzero value. Experiments in frog egg extract confirm the main theoretical predictions. Our results suggest that asters observed in large fish and amphibian eggs are a meshwork of short, unstable microtubules maintained by autocatalytic nucleation and provide a paradigm for the assembly of robust and evolvable polymer networks.
  • Article
    Functional overlap of microtubule assembly factors in chromatin-promoted spindle assembly
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2009-04-15) Groen, Aaron C. ; Maresca, Thomas J. ; Gatlin, Jesse C. ; Salmon, Edward D. ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Distinct pathways from centrosomes and chromatin are thought to contribute in parallel to microtubule nucleation and stabilization during animal cell mitotic spindle assembly, but their full mechanisms are not known. We investigated the function of three proposed nucleation/stabilization factors, TPX2, {gamma}-tubulin and XMAP215, in chromatin-promoted assembly of anastral spindles in Xenopus laevis egg extract. In addition to conventional depletion-add back experiments, we tested whether factors could substitute for each other, indicative of functional redundancy. All three factors were required for microtubule polymerization and bipolar spindle assembly around chromatin beads. Depletion of TPX2 was partially rescued by the addition of excess XMAP215 or EB1, or inhibiting MCAK (a Kinesin-13). Depletion of either {gamma}-tubulin or XMAP215 was partially rescued by adding back XMAP215, but not by adding any of the other factors. These data reveal functional redundancy between specific assembly factors in the chromatin pathway, suggesting individual proteins or pathways commonly viewed to be essential may not have entirely unique functions.
  • Article
    Colloid osmotic parameterization and measurement of subcellular crowding
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2019-01-14) Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Crowding of the subcellular environment by macromolecules is thought to promote protein aggregation and phase separation. A challenge is how to parameterize the degree of crowding of the cell interior or artificial solutions that is relevant to these reactions. Here I review colloid osmotic pressure as a crowding metric. This pressure is generated by solutions of macromolecules in contact with pores that are permeable to water and ions but not macromolecules. It generates depletion forces that push macromolecules together in crowded solutions and thus promotes aggregation and phase separation. I discuss measurements of colloid osmotic pressure inside cells using the nucleus, the cytoplasmic gel, and fluorescence resonant energy transfer (FRET) biosensors as osmometers, which return a range of values from 1 to 20 kPa. I argue for a low value, 1–2 kPa, in frog eggs and perhaps more generally. This value is close to the linear range on concentration–pressure curves and is thus not crowded from an osmotic perspective. I discuss the implications of a low crowding pressure inside cells for phase separation biology, buffer design, and proteome evolution. I also discuss a pressure–tension model for nuclear shape, where colloid osmotic pressure generated by nuclear protein import inflates the nucleus.
  • Article
    Microtubule plus-end dynamics in Xenopus egg extract spindles
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2004-02-06) Tirnauer, Jennifer S. ; Salmon, Edward D. ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Microtubule dynamics underlie spindle assembly, yet we do not know how the spindle environment affects these dynamics. We developed methods for measuring two key parameters of microtubule plus-end dynamic instability in Xenopus egg extract spindles. To measure plus-end polymerization rates and localize growing plus ends, we used fluorescence confocal imaging of EB1. This revealed plus-end polymerization throughout the spindle at ~11 µm/min, similar to astral microtubules, suggesting polymerization velocity is not regionally regulated by the spindle. The ratio of EB1 to microtubule fluorescence revealed an enrichment of polymerizing ends near the spindle middle, indicating enhanced nucleation or rescue there. We measured depolymerization rates by creating a front of synchronized depolymerization in spindles severed with microneedles. This front could be tracked by polarization and fluorescence microscopy as it advanced from each cut edge toward the associated pole. Both imaging modalities revealed rapid depolymerization (~30 µm/min) superimposed on a subset of microtubules stable to depolymerization. Larger spindle fragments contained a higher percentage of stable microtubules, which we believe were oriented with their minus ends facing the cut. Depolymerization was blocked by the potent microtubule stabilizing agent hexylene glycol, but was unaffected by {alpha}-MCAK antibody and AMPPNP, which block catastrophe and kinesin motility, respectively. These measurements move us closer to understanding the complete life history of a spindle microtubule.
  • Article
    Spindle-to-cortex communication in cleaving, polyspermic Xenopus eggs
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2015-10-15) Field, Christine M. ; Groen, Aaron C. ; Nguyen, Phuong A. ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Mitotic spindles specify cleavage planes in early embryos by communicating their position and orientation to the cell cortex using microtubule asters that grow out from the spindle poles during anaphase. Chromatin also plays a poorly understood role. Polyspermic fertilization provides a natural experiment in which aster pairs from the same spindle (sister asters) have chromatin between them, whereas asters pairs from different spindles (nonsisters) do not. In frogs, only sister aster pairs induce furrows. We found that only sister asters recruited two conserved furrow-inducing signaling complexes, chromosome passenger complex (CPC) and Centralspindlin, to a plane between them. This explains why only sister pairs induce furrows. We then investigated factors that influenced CPC recruitment to microtubule bundles in intact eggs and a cytokinesis extract system. We found that microtubule stabilization, optimal starting distance between asters, and proximity to chromatin all favored CPC recruitment. We propose a model in which proximity to chromatin biases initial CPC recruitment to microtubule bundles between asters from the same spindle. Next a positive feedback between CPC recruitment and microtubule stabilization promotes lateral growth of a plane of CPC-positive microtubule bundles out to the cortex to position the furrow.
  • Preprint
    Using supported bilayers to study the spatiotemporal organization of membrane-bound proteins
    ( 2015-01) Nguyen, Phuong A. ; Field, Christine M. ; Groen, Aaron C. ; Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Loose, Martin
    Cell division in prokaryotes and eukaryotes is commonly initiated by the well-controlled binding of proteins to the cytoplasmic side of the cell membrane. However, a precise characterization of the spatiotemporal dynamics of membrane-bound proteins is often difficult to achieve in vivo. Here, we present protocols for the use of supported lipid bilayers to rebuild the cytokinetic machineries of cells with greatly different dimensions: the bacterium Escherichia coli and eggs of the vertebrate Xenopus laevis. Combined with total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy, these experimental setups allow for precise quantitative analyses of membrane-bound proteins. The protocols described to obtain glass-supported membranes from bacterial and vertebrate lipids can be used as starting points for other reconstitution experiments. We believe that similar biochemical assays will be instrumental to study the biochemistry and biophysics underlying a variety of complex cellular tasks, such as signaling, vesicle trafficking and cell motility.
  • Article
    Roles of polymerization dynamics, opposed motors, and a tensile element in governing the length of Xenopus extract meiotic spindles
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2005-03-23) Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Maddox, P. ; Gaetz, J. ; Groen, Aaron C. ; Shirasu, M. ; Desai, Ankur R. ; Salmon, Edward D. ; Kapoor, Tarun M.
    Metaphase spindles assemble to a steady state in length by mechanisms that involve microtubule dynamics and motor proteins, but they are incompletely understood. We found that Xenopus extract spindles recapitulate the length of egg meiosis II spindles, by using mechanisms intrinsic to the spindle. To probe these mechanisms, we perturbed microtubule polymerization dynamics and opposed motor proteins and measured effects on spindle morphology and dynamics. Microtubules were stabilized by hexylene glycol and inhibition of the catastrophe factor mitotic centromere-associated kinesin (MCAK) (a kinesin 13, previously called XKCM) and destabilized by depolymerizing drugs. The opposed motors Eg5 and dynein were inhibited separately and together. Our results are consistent with important roles for polymerization dynamics in regulating spindle length, and for opposed motors in regulating the relative stability of bipolar versus monopolar organization. The response to microtubule destabilization suggests that an unidentified tensile element acts in parallel with these conventional factors, generating spindle shortening force.
  • Article
    Prc1E and Kif4A control microtubule organization within and between large Xenopus egg asters
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2018-03-23) Nguyen, Phuong A. ; Field, Christine M. ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    The cleavage furrow in Xenopus zygotes is positioned by two large microtubule asters that grow out from the poles of the first mitotic spindle. Where these asters meet at the midplane, they assemble a disk-shaped interaction zone consisting of anti-parallel microtubule bundles coated with chromosome passenger complex (CPC) and centralspindlin that instructs the cleavage furrow. Here we investigate the mechanism that keeps the two asters separate and forms a distinct boundary between them, focusing on the conserved cytokinesis midzone proteins Prc1 and Kif4A. Prc1E, the egg orthologue of Prc1, and Kif4A were recruited to anti-parallel bundles at interaction zones between asters in Xenopus egg extracts. Prc1E was required for Kif4A recruitment but not vice versa. Microtubule plus-end growth slowed and terminated preferentially within interaction zones, resulting in a block to interpenetration that depended on both Prc1E and Kif4A. Unexpectedly, Prc1E and Kif4A were also required for radial order of large asters growing in isolation, apparently to compensate for the direction-randomizing influence of nucleation away from centrosomes. We propose that Prc1E and Kif4, together with catastrophe factors, promote “anti-parallel pruning” that enforces radial organization within asters and generates boundaries to microtubule growth between asters.
  • Article
    Bipolarization and poleward flux correlate during xenopus extract spindle assembly
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2004-09-22) Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Maddox, P. ; Groen, Aaron C. ; Cameron, Lisa ; Perlman, Z. ; Ohi, Ryoma ; Desai, Ankur R. ; Salmon, Edward D. ; Kapoor, Tarun M.
    We investigated the mechanism by which meiotic spindles become bipolar and the correlation between bipolarity and poleward flux, using Xenopus egg extracts. By speckle microscopy and computational alignment, we find that monopolar sperm asters do not show evidence for flux, partially contradicting previous work. We account for the discrepancy by describing spontaneous bipolarization of sperm asters that was missed previously. During spontaneous bipolarization, onset of flux correlated with onset of bipolarity, implying that antiparallel microtubule organization may be required for flux. Using a probe for TPX2 in addition to tubulin, we describe two pathways that lead to spontaneous bipolarization, new pole assembly near chromatin, and pole splitting. By inhibiting the Ran pathway with excess importin-alpha, we establish a role for chromatin-derived, antiparallel overlap bundles in generating the sliding force for flux, and we examine these bundles by electron microscopy. Our results highlight the importance of two processes, chromatin-initiated microtubule nucleation, and sliding forces generated between antiparallel microtubules, in self-organization of spindle bipolarity and poleward flux.
  • Preprint
    Force and length in the mitotic spindle
    ( 2009-07) Dumont, Sophie ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    The mitotic spindle assembles to a steady-state length at metaphase through the integrated action of molecular mechanisms that generate and respond to mechanical forces. While molecular mechanisms that produce force have been described, our understanding of how they integrate with each other, and with the assembly-disassembly mechanisms that regulate length, is poor. We review current understanding of the basic architecture and dynamics of the metaphase spindle, and some of the elementary force producing mechanisms. We then discuss models for force integration, and spindle length determination. We also emphasize key missing data that notably includes absolute values of forces, and how they vary as a function of position, within the spindle.
  • Preprint
    Spindle assembly in the absence of a RanGTP gradient requires localized CPC activity
    ( 2009-05) Maresca, Thomas J. ; Groen, Aaron C. ; Gatlin, Jesse C. ; Ohi, Ryoma ; Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Salmon, Edward D.
    During animal cell division, a gradient of GTP-bound Ran is generated around mitotic chromatin. It is generally accepted that this RanGTP gradient is essential for organizing the spindle since it locally activates critical spindle assembly factors. Here, we show in Xenopus egg extract, where the gradient is best characterized, that spindles can assemble in the absence of a RanGTP gradient. Gradient-free spindle assembly occurred around sperm nuclei but not around chromatin-coated beads and required the chromosomal passenger complex (CPC). Artificial enrichment of CPC activity within hybrid bead arrays containing both immobilized chromatin and the CPC supported local microtubule assembly even in the absence of a RanGTP gradient. We conclude that RanGTP and the CPC constitute the two major molecular signals that spatially promote microtubule polymerization around chromatin. Furthermore, we hypothesize that the two signals mainly originate from discreet physical sites on the chromosomes to localize microtubule assembly around chromatin: a RanGTP signal from any chromatin, and a CPC-dependent signal predominantly generated from centromeric chromatin.
  • Article
    Directly probing the mechanical properties of the spindle and its matrix
    (Rockefeller University Press, 2010-02-22) Gatlin, Jesse C. ; Matov, Alexandre ; Danuser, Gaudenz ; Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Salmon, Edward D.
    Several recent models for spindle length regulation propose an elastic pole to pole spindle matrix that is sufficiently strong to bear or antagonize forces generated by microtubules and microtubule motors. We tested this hypothesis using microneedles to skewer metaphase spindles in Xenopus laevis egg extracts. Microneedle tips inserted into a spindle just outside the metaphase plate resulted in spindle movement along the interpolar axis at a velocity slightly slower than microtubule poleward flux, bringing the nearest pole toward the needle. Spindle velocity decreased near the pole, which often split apart slowly, eventually letting the spindle move completely off the needle. When two needles were inserted on either side of the metaphase plate and rapidly moved apart, there was minimal spindle deformation until they reached the poles. In contrast, needle separation in the equatorial direction rapidly increased spindle width as constant length spindle fibers pulled the poles together. These observations indicate that an isotropic spindle matrix does not make a significant mechanical contribution to metaphase spindle length determination.
  • Article
    Self-organization of stabilized microtubules by both spindle and midzone mechanisms in Xenopus egg cytosol
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2013-03-20) Mitchison, Timothy J. ; Nguyen, Phuong A. ; Coughlin, Margaret ; Groen, Aaron C.
    Previous study of self-organization of Taxol-stabilized microtubules into asters in Xenopus meiotic extracts revealed motor-dependent organizational mechanisms in the spindle. We revisit this approach using clarified cytosol with glycogen added back to supply energy and reducing equivalents. We added probes for NUMA and Aurora B to reveal microtubule polarity. Taxol and dimethyl sulfoxide promote rapid polymerization of microtubules that slowly self-organize into assemblies with a characteristic morphology consisting of paired lines or open circles of parallel bundles. Minus ends align in NUMA-containing foci on the outside, and plus ends in Aurora B–containing foci on the inside. Assemblies have a well-defined width that depends on initial assembly conditions, but microtubules within them have a broad length distribution. Electron microscopy shows that plus-end foci are coated with electron-dense material and resemble similar foci in monopolar midzones in cells. Functional tests show that two key spindle assembly factors, dynein and kinesin-5, act during assembly as they do in spindles, whereas two key midzone assembly factors, Aurora B and Kif4, act as they do in midzones. These data reveal the richness of self-organizing mechanisms that operate on microtubules after they polymerize in meiotic cytoplasm and provide a biochemically tractable system for investigating plus-end organization in midzones.
  • Article
    Co-movement of astral microtubules, organelles and F-actin by dynein and actomyosin forces in frog egg cytoplasm
    (eLife Sciences Publications, 2020-12-07) Pelletier, James F. ; Field, Christine M. ; Fürthauer, Sebastian ; Sonnett, Matthew ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    How bulk cytoplasm generates forces to separate post-anaphase microtubule (MT) asters in Xenopus laevis and other large eggs remains unclear. Previous models proposed that dynein-based, inward organelle transport generates length-dependent pulling forces that move centrosomes and MTs outwards, while other components of cytoplasm are static. We imaged aster movement by dynein and actomyosin forces in Xenopus egg extracts and observed outward co-movement of MTs, endoplasmic reticulum (ER), mitochondria, acidic organelles, F-actin, keratin, and soluble fluorescein. Organelles exhibited a burst of dynein-dependent inward movement at the growing aster periphery, then mostly halted inside the aster, while dynein-coated beads moved to the aster center at a constant rate, suggesting organelle movement is limited by brake proteins or other sources of drag. These observations call for new models in which all components of the cytoplasm comprise a mechanically integrated aster gel that moves collectively in response to dynein and actomyosin forces.
  • Article
    Spatial variation of microtubule depolymerization in large asters
    (American Society for Cell Biology, 2021-04-19) Ishihara, Keisuke ; Decker, Franziska ; Caldas, Paulo ; Pelletier, James F. ; Loose, Martin ; Brugués, Jan ; Mitchison, Timothy J.
    Microtubule plus-end depolymerization rate is a potentially important target of physiological regulation, but it has been challenging to measure, so its role in spatial organization is poorly understood. Here we apply a method for tracking plus ends based on time difference imaging to measure depolymerization rates in large interphase asters growing in Xenopus egg extract. We observed strong spatial regulation of depolymerization rates, which were higher in the aster interior compared with the periphery, and much less regulation of polymerization or catastrophe rates. We interpret these data in terms of a limiting component model, where aster growth results in lower levels of soluble tubulin and microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) in the interior cytosol compared with that at the periphery. The steady-state polymer fraction of tubulin was ∼30%, so tubulin is not strongly depleted in the aster interior. We propose that the limiting component for microtubule assembly is a MAP that inhibits depolymerization, and that egg asters are tuned to low microtubule density.