In Chinese hamster ovary cells, microtubules originate at the microtubule organizing center (MTOC) and grow persistently toward the cell edge, where they undergo catastrophe [1]. In axons, microtubule dynamics must be regulated differently because microtubules grow parallel to the plasma membrane and there is no MTOC. GFP-tagged microtubule plus end tracking proteins (+TIPs) mark the ends of growing neuronal microtubules [2]. Their fluorescent "comet-like" pattern reflects turnover of +TIP binding sites [3, 4]. Using GFP-tagged +TIPs and fluorescence-based segmentation and tracking tools, we show that axonal microtubules grow with a constant average velocity and that they undergo catastrophes at random positions, yet in a programmed fashion. Using protein depletion approaches, we find that the +TIPs CLIP-115 and CLIP-170 affect average microtubule growth rate and growth distance in neurons but not the duration of a microtubule growth event. In N1E-115 neuroblastoma cells, we find that EB1, the core +TIP [5], regulates microtubule growth rate, growth distance, and duration, consistent with in vitro data [6]. Combined, our data suggest that CLIPs influence the axonal microtubule/tubulin ratio, whereas EB1 stimulates microtubule growth and structural transitions at microtubule ends, thereby regulating microtubule catastrophes and the turnover of +TIP binding sites.

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Current Biology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Stepanova, T, Smal, I, van Haren, J.A.J, Akinci, U, Liu, Z, Miedema, M, … Galjart, N.J. (2010). History-dependent catastrophes regulate axonal microtubule behavior. Current Biology, 20(11), 1023–1028. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.04.024