, Volume 114, Issue 5, pp 310-318
Date: 04 Nov 2005

Kinetochore fiber formation in animal somatic cells: dueling mechanisms come to a draw

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Abstract

The attachment to and movement of a chromosome on the mitotic spindle are mediated by the formation of a bundle of microtubules (MTs) that tethers the kinetochore on the chromosome to a spindle pole. The origin of these “kinetochore fibers” (K fibers) has been investigated for over 125 years. As noted in 1944 by Schrader [Mitosis, Columbia University Press, New York, 110 pp.], there are three possible ways to form a K fiber: (a) it grows from the pole until it contacts the kinetochore, (b) it grows directly from the kinetochore, or (c) it forms as a result of an interaction between the pole and the chromosome. Since Schrader's time, it has been firmly established that K fibers in centrosome-containing animal somatic cells form as kinetochores capture MTs growing from the spindle pole (route a). It is now similarly clear that in cells lacking centrosomes, including higher plants and many animal oocytes, K fibers “self-assemble” from MTs generated by the chromosomes (route b). Can animal somatic cells form K fibers in the absence of centrosomes by the “self-assembly” pathway? In 2000, the answer to this question was shown to be a resounding “yes.” With this result, the next question became whether the presence of a centrosome normally suppresses K fiber self-assembly or if this route works concurrently with centrosome-mediated K-fiber formation. This question, too, has recently been answered: observations on untreated live animal cells expressing green fluorescent protein-tagged tubulin clearly show that kinetochores can nucleate the formation of their associated MTs in a unique manner in the presence of functional centrosomes. The concurrent operation of these two “dueling” routes for forming K fibers in animal cells helps explain why the attachment of kinetochores and the maturation of K fibers occur as quickly as they do on all chromosomes within a cell.

Communicated by E.A. Nigg
This article is dedicated to the memory of Hans Ris.