Assembly and positioning of microtubule asters in microfabricated chambers

Timothy E. Holy, Marileen Dogterom, Bernard Yurke, Stanislas Leibler

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164 Scopus citations


Intracellular organization depends on a variety of molecular assembly processes; while some of these have been studied in simplified cell-free systems, others depend on the confined geometry of cells and cannot be reconstructed using bulk techniques. To study the latter processes in vitro, we fabricated microscopic chambers that simulate the closed environment of cells. We used these chambers to study the positioning of microtubule asters. Microtubule assembly alone, without the action of molecular motors, is sufficient to position asters. Asters with short microtubules move toward the position expected from symmetry; however, once the microtubules become long enough to buckle, symmetry is broken. Calculations and experiments show that the bending-energy landscape has multiple minima. Microtubule dynamic instability modifies the landscape over time and allows asters to explore otherwise inaccessible configurations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6228-6231
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 10 1997


  • Centering
  • Centrosome
  • Microtubule-organizing center
  • Polymerization force


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