Push-me-pull-you: how microtubules organize the cell interior

Eur Biophys J. 2008 Sep;37(7):1271-8. doi: 10.1007/s00249-008-0321-0. Epub 2008 Apr 11.


Dynamic organization of the cell interior, which is crucial for cell function, largely depends on the microtubule cytoskeleton. Microtubules move and position organelles by pushing, pulling, or sliding. Pushing forces can be generated by microtubule polymerization, whereas pulling typically involves microtubule depolymerization or molecular motors, or both. Sliding between a microtubule and another microtubule, an organelle, or the cell cortex is also powered by molecular motors. Although numerous examples of microtubule-based pushing and pulling in living cells have been observed, it is not clear why different cell types and processes employ different mechanisms. This review introduces a classification of microtubule-based positioning strategies and discusses the efficacy of pushing and pulling. The positioning mechanisms based on microtubule pushing are efficient for movements over small distances, and for centering of organelles in symmetric geometries. Mechanisms based on pulling, on the other hand, are typically more elaborate, but are necessary when the distances to be covered by the organelles are large, and when the geometry is asymmetric and complex. Thus, taking into account cell geometry and the length scale of the movements helps to identify general principles of the intracellular layout based on microtubule forces.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cells / cytology*
  • Cells / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Organelles / metabolism