Chromosome segregation during cell division depends on interactions of kinetochores with dynamic microtubules (MTs). In many eukaryotes, each kinetochore binds multiple MTs, but the collective behavior of these coupled MTs is not well understood. We present a minimal model for collective kinetochore-MT dynamics, based on in vitro measurements of individual MTs and their dependence on force and kinetochore phosphorylation by Aurora B kinase. For a system of multiple MTs connected to the same kinetochore, the force-velocity relation has a bistable regime with two possible steady-state velocities: rapid shortening or slow growth. Bistability, combined with the difference between the growing and shrinking speeds, leads to center-of-mass and breathing oscillations in bioriented sister kinetochore pairs. Kinetochore phosphorylation shifts the bistable region to higher tensions, so that only the rapidly shortening state is stable at low tension. Thus, phosphorylation leads to error correction for kinetochores that are not under tension. We challenged the model with new experiments, using chemically induced dimerization to enhance Aurora B activity at metaphase kinetochores. The model suggests that the experimentally observed disordering of the metaphase plate occurs because phosphorylation increases kinetochore speeds by biasing MTs to shrink. Our minimal model qualitatively captures certain characteristic features of kinetochore dynamics, illustrates how biochemical signals such as phosphorylation may regulate the dynamics, and provides a theoretical framework for understanding other factors that control the dynamics in vivo.
Keywords: Aurora B; chromosome oscillations; error correction; metaphase; microtubules.