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Behaviors of individual microtubules and microtubule populations relative to critical concentrations: dynamic instability occurs when critical concentrations are driven apart by nucleotide hydrolysis.

  • Author(s): Jonasson, Erin M
  • Mauro, Ava J
  • Li, Chunlei
  • Labuz, Ellen C
  • Mahserejian, Shant M
  • Scripture, Jared P
  • Gregoretti, Ivan V
  • Alber, Mark
  • Goodson, Holly V
  • et al.

The concept of critical concentration (CC) is central to understanding the behavior of microtubules (MTs) and other cytoskeletal polymers. Traditionally, these polymers are understood to have one CC, measured in multiple ways and assumed to be the subunit concentration necessary for polymer assembly. However, this framework does not incorporate dynamic instability (DI), and there is work indicating that MTs have two CCs. We use our previously established simulations to confirm that MTs have (at least) two experimentally relevant CCs and to clarify the behavior of individuals and populations relative to the CCs. At free subunit concentrations above the lower CC (CCElongation), growth phases of individual filaments can occur transiently; above the higher CC (CCNetAssembly), the population's polymer mass will increase persistently. Our results demonstrate that most experimental CC measurements correspond to CCNetAssembly, meaning that "typical" DI occurs below the concentration traditionally considered necessary for polymer assembly. We report that [free tubulin] at steady state does not equal CCNetAssembly, but instead approaches CCNetAssembly asymptotically as [total tubulin] increases, and depends on the number of stable MT nucleation sites. We show that the degree of separation between CCElongation and CCNetAssembly depends on the rate of nucleotide hydrolysis. This clarified framework helps explain and unify many experimental observations.

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