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Compartment volume influences microtubule dynamic instability: a model study

Janulevicius, A., Van Pelt, J., and Van Ooyen, A. (2006). Biophysical J. 90: 788-798. [Full text: PDF]


Microtubules (MTs) are cytoskeletal polymers that exhibit dynamic instability, the random alternation between growth and shrinkage. MT dynamic instability plays an essential role in cell development, division and motility. To investigate dynamic instability, simulation models have been widely used. However, conditions under which the concentration of free tubulin fluctuates as a result of growing or shrinking MTs have not been studied before. Such conditions can arise, for example, in small compartments, such as neuronal growth cones.

Here we investigate by means of computational modelling how concentration fluctuations caused by growing and shrinking MTs affect dynamic instability. We show that these fluctuations shorten MT growth and shrinkage times and change their distributions from exponential to non-exponential, gamma-like. Gamma-like distributions of MT growth and shrinkage times, which allow optimal stochastic searching by MTs, have been observed in various cell types and are believed to require structural changes in the MT during growth or shrinkage. Our results, however, show that these distributions can already arise as a result of fluctuations in the concentration of free tubulin due to growing and shrinking MTs.

Such fluctuations are possible not only in small compartments but also when tubulin diffusion is slow or when many MTs (de)polymerize synchronously. Volume and all other factors that influence these fluctuations can affect MT dynamic instability and, consequently, the processes that depend on it, such as neuronal growth cone behaviour and cell motility in general.

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