Mechanisms of microtubule dynamics and force generation examined with computational modeling and electron cryotomography

Nat Commun. 2020 Jul 28;11(1):3765. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17553-2.


Microtubules are dynamic tubulin polymers responsible for many cellular processes, including the capture and segregation of chromosomes during mitosis. In contrast to textbook models of tubulin self-assembly, we have recently demonstrated that microtubules elongate by addition of bent guanosine triphosphate tubulin to the tips of curving protofilaments. Here we explore this mechanism of microtubule growth using Brownian dynamics modeling and electron cryotomography. The previously described flaring shapes of growing microtubule tips are remarkably consistent under various assembly conditions, including different tubulin concentrations, the presence or absence of a polymerization catalyst or tubulin-binding drugs. Simulations indicate that development of substantial forces during microtubule growth and shortening requires a high activation energy barrier in lateral tubulin-tubulin interactions. Modeling offers a mechanism to explain kinetochore coupling to growing microtubule tips under assisting force, and it predicts a load-dependent acceleration of microtubule assembly, providing a role for the flared morphology of growing microtubule ends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Microtubules / drug effects
  • Microtubules / metabolism*
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Models, Biological*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Polymerization / drug effects
  • Swine
  • Tubulin / isolation & purification
  • Tubulin / metabolism*
  • Tubulin / ultrastructure
  • Tubulin Modulators / pharmacology


  • Tubulin
  • Tubulin Modulators