Optogenetic Control of Microtubule Dynamics

  • Jeffrey van Haren
  • Lauren S. Adachi
  • Torsten WittmannEmail author
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 2101)


Light can be controlled with high spatial and temporal accuracy. Therefore, optogenetics is an attractive experimental approach to modulate intracellular cytoskeleton dynamics at much faster timescales than by genetic modification. For example, in mammalian cells, microtubules (MTs) grow tens of micrometers per minute and many intracellular MT functions are mediated by a complex of +TIP proteins that dynamically associate with growing MT plus ends. EB1 is a central component of this +TIP protein network, and we recently developed a photo-inactivated π-EB1 by inserting a blue light-sensitive LOV2/Zdk1 module between the EB1 MT-binding domain and the +TIP adaptor domain. Blue light-induced π-EB1 photodissociation results in disassembly of the +TIP complex and strongly attenuates MT growth in mammalian cells.

In this chapter, we discuss theoretical and practical aspects of how to perform high-resolution live-cell microscopy in combination with π-EB1 photodissociation. However, these techniques are broadly applicable to other LOV2-based and likely other blue light-sensitive optogenetics. In addition to being a tool to investigate +TIP functions acutely and with subcellular resolution, because of its dramatic and rapid change in intracellular localization, π-EB1 can serve as a powerful tool to test and characterize optogenetic illumination setups. We describe protocols on how to achieve micrometer-scale intracellular control of π-EB1 activity using patterned illumination, and we introduce a do-it-yourself LED cube design compatible with transmitted light microscopy in multiwell plates.

Key words

Optogenetics π-EB1 Photodissociation Microtubules EB1 +TIP LOV2 LOVTRAP Zdk1 Live-cell microscopy 



This work was supported by NIH grants R01 GM094819, R01 NS107480, and R21 CA224194 to T.W. We would also like to thank Dylan Romero and Jenny Tai from The Makers Lab at UCSF for valuable advice and assistance with 3D printing.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey van Haren
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lauren S. Adachi
    • 1
  • Torsten Wittmann
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Cell and Tissue BiologyUniversity of California San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Cell BiologyErasmus MCRotterdamThe Netherlands

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