Direct observation of microtubule dynamics in living cells

Nature. 1988 Apr 21;332(6166):724-6. doi: 10.1038/332724a0.


The study of cell locomotion is fundamental to such diverse processes as embryonic development, wound healing and metastasis. Since microtubules play a role in establishing the leading lamellum and maintaining cell polarity, it is important to understand their dynamic behaviour. In vitro, subunits exchange with polymer by treadmilling and by dynamic instability. Disassembly events can be complete (catastrophic) or incomplete (tempered). In vivo, microtubules are in dynamic equilibrium with subunits with a half-time for turnover of 4-20 min. Microtubules grow by elongation of their ends and are replaced one by one with turnover being most rapid at the periphery. Although previous results are consistent with dynamic instability, we sought to directly test the mechanism of turnover. Direct observations of fluorescent microtubules in the fibroblast lamellum show that individual microtubules undergo rounds of assembly and disassembly from the same end. Reorganization of the microtubule network occurs by a tempered mode of dynamic instability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Movement
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microtubules / physiology*
  • Microtubules / ultrastructure
  • Tubulin / physiology


  • Tubulin