, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 119-126

Microtubule dynamics in a cytosolic extract of fetal rat brain

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Brain microtubule dynamics were studied by video-enhanced differential interference contrast microscopy in a cytosolic extract from fetal rat brain, prepared under conditions designed to produce minimal alterations in microtubule stability. With urchin sperm axoneme fragments as nucleation seeds, the extract was shown to support cellular-like microtubule dynamics. Microtubules elongated from one end of the axonemes, and did not spontaneously self-assemble in the absence of axonemes. The following microtubule kinetic parameters were measured in the extract: velocity of elongation (8.1 mm/min), velocity of rapid shortening (5.8 mm/min), catastrophe frequency (0.17 min-1), and rescue frequency (1 min-1). These parameters were in close agreement with reported values for growth cones of living neurons. Microtubule properties in the fetal brain extract were shown to be affected by agents with known effects on the cytoskeleton. pp60c-src, a tyrosine kinase important in cell adhesion molecule-dependent axon growth, caused small increases in the frequency of microtubule catastrophe (0.31 min-1) and rescue (2 min-1) without changing the velocities of elongation or rapid-shortening. Although pp60c-src phosphorylated purified porcine brain tubulin in vitro, it did not elicit significant changes in its polymerization properties, suggesting that other cytoskeletal proteins in the brain extract are involved in modulating microtubule dynamics. The cytosolic extract of fetal rat brain provides a useful system for studying regulation of microtubule assembly in neuronal growth cones.