Shape changes of individual microtubules following laser severing have been measured in Tanmay Lele's lab. Surprisingly, regions near newly created minus ends increased in curvature following severing, while regions near new microtubule plus ends depolymerized without any observable change in shape. With dynein inhibited, regions near severed minus ends straightened rapidly following severing. These observations suggest that dynein exerts a pulling force on the microtubule which buckles the newly created minus end. Moreover, the lack of any observable straightening suggests that dynein prevents lateral motion of microtubules. To explain these results, we developed a model for intracellular microtubule mechanics which predicts the enhanced buckling at the minus end of a severed microtubule. Our results show that microtubule shapes reflect a dynamic force balance, in which dynein motor and friction forces dominate elastic forces arising from bending moments. A centrosomal array of microtubules subjected to dynein pulling forces and resisted by dynein friction is predicted to center on the experimentally observed timescale, with or without the pushing forces derived from microtubule buckling at the cell periphery.
Dynamics of an ensemble of microtubules without motor forces. Click here to download.
Dynamics of an ensemble of microtubules with motor forces. Click here to download.