The spindle is a dynamic structure that changes its architecture and size in response to biochemical and physical cues. For example, a simple physical change, cell confinement, can trigger centrosome separation and increase spindle steady-state length at metaphase. How this occurs is not understood, and is the question we pose here. We find that metaphase and anaphase spindles elongate at the same rate when confined, suggesting that similar elongation forces can be generated independent of biochemical and spindle structural differences. Furthermore, this elongation does not require bipolar spindle architecture or dynamic microtubules. Rather, confinement increases numbers of astral microtubules laterally contacting the cortex, shifting contact geometry from 'end-on' to 'side-on'. Astral microtubules engage cortically anchored motors along their length, as demonstrated by outward sliding and buckling after ablation-mediated release from the centrosome. We show that dynein is required for confinement-induced spindle elongation, and chemical and physical centrosome removal demonstrate that astral microtubules are required for such spindle elongation and its maintenance. Together, the data suggest that promoting lateral cortex-microtubule contacts increases dynein-mediated force generation and is sufficient to drive spindle elongation. More broadly, changes in microtubule-to-cortex contact geometry could offer a mechanism for translating changes in cell shape into dramatic intracellular remodeling.
The intermediate filament vimentin is required for cells to transition from the epithelial state to the mesenchymal state and migrate as single cells; however, little is known about the specific role of vimentin in the regulation of mesenchymal migration. Vimentin is known to have a significantly greater ability to resist stress without breaking in vitro compared with actin or microtubules, and also to increase cell elasticity in vivo. Therefore, we hypothesized that the presence of vimentin could support the anisotropic mechanical strain of single-cell migration. To study this, we fluorescently labeled vimentin with an mEmerald tag using TALEN genome editing. We observed vimentin architecture in migrating human foreskin fibroblasts and found that network organization varied from long, linear bundles, or "fibers," to shorter fragments with a mesh-like organization. We developed image analysis tools employing steerable filtering and iterative graph matching to characterize the fibers embedded in the surrounding mesh. Vimentin fibers were aligned with fibroblast branching and migration direction. The presence of the vimentin network was correlated with 10-fold slower local actin retrograde flow rates, as well as spatial homogenization of actin-based forces transmitted to the substrate. Vimentin fibers coaligned with and were required for the anisotropic orientation of traction stresses. These results indicate that the vimentin network acts as a load-bearing superstructure capable of integrating and reorienting actin-based forces. We propose that vimentin's role in cell motility is to govern the alignment of traction stresses that permit single-cell migration.
Purified microtubules have been shown to align along the static magnetic field (SMF) in vitro because of their diamagnetic anisotropy. However, whether mitotic spindle in cells can be aligned by magnetic field has not been experimentally proved. In particular, the biological effects of SMF of above 20 T (Tesla) have never been reported. Here we found that in both CNE-2Z and RPE1 human cells spindle orients in 27 T SMF. The direction of spindle alignment depended on the extent to which chromosomes were aligned to form a planar metaphase plate. Our results show that the magnetic torque acts on both microtubules and chromosomes, and the preferred direction of spindle alignment relative to the field depends more on chromosome alignment than microtubules. In addition, spindle morphology was also perturbed by 27 T SMF. This is the first reported study that investigated the cellular responses to ultra-high magnetic field of above 20 T. Our study not only found that ultra-high magnetic field can change the orientation and morphology of mitotic spindles, but also provided a tool to probe the role of spindle orientation and perturbation in developmental and cancer biology.
Anti-mitotic cancer drugs include classic microtubule-targeting drugs, such as taxanes and vinca alkaloids, and the newer spindle-targeting drugs, such as inhibitors of the motor protein, Kinesin-5 (aka KSP, Eg5, KIF11), and Aurora-A, Aurora-B and Polo-like kinases. Microtubule-targeting drugs are among the first line of chemotherapies for a wide spectrum of cancers, but patient responses vary greatly. We still lack understanding of how these drugs achieve a favorable therapeutic index, and why individual patient responses vary. Spindle-targeting drugs have so far shown disappointing results in the clinic, but it is possible that certain patients could benefit if we understand their mechanism of action better. Pre-clinical data from both cell culture and mouse tumor models showed that the cell death response is the most variable point of the drug action. Hence, in this review we focus on current mechanistic understanding of the cell death response to anti-mitotics. We first draw on extensive results from cell culture studies, and then cross-examine them with the more limited data from animal tumor models and the clinic. We end by discussing how cell-type variation in cell death response might be harnessed to improve anti-mitotic chemotherapy by better patient stratification, new drug combinations and identification of novel targets for drug development.
The chromosomal passenger complex (CPC) is a conserved, essential regulator of cell division. As such, significant anti-cancer drug development efforts have been focused on targeting it, most notably by inhibiting its AURKB kinase subunit. The CPC is activated by AURKB-catalyzed autophosphorylation on multiple subunits, but how this regulates CPC interactions with other mitotic proteins remains unclear. We investigated the hydrodynamic behavior of the CPC in Xenopus laevis egg cytosol using sucrose gradient sedimentation and in HeLa cells using fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS). We found that autophosphorylation of the CPC decreases its sedimentation coefficient (S-value) in egg cytosol and increases its diffusion coefficient in live cells, indicating a decrease in mass. Using immunoprecipitation coupled with mass spectrometry and immunoblots, we discovered that inactive, unphosphorylated CPC interacts with nucleophosmin/nucleoplasmin proteins, which are known to oligomerize into pentamers and decamers. Autophosphorylation of the CPC causes it to dissociate from nucleophosmin/nucleoplasmin. We propose nucleophosmin/nucleoplasmin complexes serve as chaperones that negatively regulate the CPC and/or stabilize its inactive form, preventing CPC autophosphorylation and recruitment to chromatin and microtubules in mitosis.
We report optimized methods for preparing actin-intact Xenopus egg extract. This extract is minimally perturbed, undiluted egg cytoplasm where the cell cycle can be experimentally controlled. It contains abundant organelles and glycogen and supports active metabolism and cytoskeletal dynamics that closely mimic egg physiology. The concentration of the most abundant ∼11,000 proteins is known from mass spectrometry. Actin-intact egg extract can be used for analysis of actin dynamics and interaction of actin with other cytoplasmic systems, as well as microtubule organization. It can be spread as thin layers and naturally depletes oxygen though mitochondrial metabolism, which makes it ideal for fluorescence imaging. When combined with artificial lipid bilayers, it allows reconstitution and analysis of the spatially controlled signaling that positions the cleavage furrow during early cytokinesis. Actin-intact extract is generally useful for probing the biochemistry and biophysics of the large Xenopus egg. Protocols are provided for preparation of actin-intact egg extract, control of the cell cycle, fluorescent probes for cytoskeleton and cytoskeleton-dependent signaling, preparation of glass surfaces for imaging experiments, and immunodepletion to probe the role of specific proteins and protein complexes. We also describe methods for adding supported lipid bilayers to mimic the plasma membrane and for confining in microfluidic droplets to explore size scaling issues.
Most vertebrate oocytes contain a Balbiani body, a large, non-membrane-bound compartment packed with RNA, mitochondria, and other organelles. Little is known about this compartment, though it specifies germline identity in many non-mammalian vertebrates. We show Xvelo, a disordered protein with an N-terminal prion-like domain, is an abundant constituent of Xenopus Balbiani bodies. Disruption of the prion-like domain of Xvelo, or substitution with a prion-like domain from an unrelated protein, interferes with its incorporation into Balbiani bodies in vivo. Recombinant Xvelo forms amyloid-like networks in vitro. Amyloid-like assemblies of Xvelo recruit both RNA and mitochondria in binding assays. We propose that Xenopus Balbiani bodies form by amyloid-like assembly of Xvelo, accompanied by co-recruitment of mitochondria and RNA. Prion-like domains are found in germ plasm organizing proteins in other species, suggesting that Balbiani body formation by amyloid-like assembly could be a conserved mechanism that helps oocytes function as long-lived germ cells.
Small molecule drugs that target microtubules (MTs), many of them natural products, have long been important tools in the MT field. Indeed, tubulin (Tb) was discovered, in part, as the protein binding partner of colchicine. Several anti-MT drug classes also have important medical uses, notably colchicine, which is used to treat gout, familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), and pericarditis, and the vinca alkaloids and taxanes, which are used to treat cancer. Anti-MT drugs have in common that they bind specifically to Tb in the dimer, MT or some other form. However, their effects on polymerization dynamics and on the human body differ markedly. Here we briefly review the most-studied molecules, and comment on their uses in basic research and medicine. Our focus is on practical applications of different anti-MT drugs in the laboratory, and key points that users should be aware of when designing experiments. We also touch on interesting unsolved problems, particularly in the area of medical applications. In our opinion, the mechanism by which any MT drug cures or treats any disease is still unsolved, despite decades of research. Solving this problem for particular drug-disease combinations might open new uses for old drugs, or provide insights into novel routes for treatment.
Mitochondria, which are essential organelles in resting and replicating cells, can vary in number, mass and shape. Past research has primarily focused on short-term molecular mechanisms underlying fission/fusion. Less is known about longer-term mitochondrial behavior such as the overall makeup of cell populations' morphological patterns and whether these patterns can be used as biomarkers of drug response in human cells. We developed an image-based analytical technique to phenotype mitochondrial morphology in different cancers, including cancer cell lines and patient-derived cancer cells. We demonstrate that (i) cancer cells of different origins, including patient-derived xenografts, express highly diverse mitochondrial phenotypes; (ii) a given phenotype is characteristic of a cell population and fairly constant over time; (iii) mitochondrial patterns correlate with cell metabolic measurements and (iv) therapeutic interventions can alter mitochondrial phenotypes in drug-sensitive cancers as measured in pre- versus post-treatment fine needle aspirates in mice. These observations shed light on the role of mitochondrial dynamics in the biology and drug response of cancer cells. On the basis of these findings, we propose that image-based mitochondrial phenotyping can provide biomarkers for assessing cancer phenotype and drug response.
The protein kinase maternal and embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) is critical for mitotic progression of cancer cells; however, its mechanisms of action remain largely unknown. By combined approaches of immunoprecipitation/mass spectrometry and peptide library profiling, we identified the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4B (eIF4B) as a MELK-interacting protein during mitosis and a bona fide substrate of MELK. MELK phosphorylates eIF4B at Ser406, a modification found to be most robust in the mitotic phase of the cell cycle. We further show that the MELK-eIF4B signaling axis regulates protein synthesis during mitosis. Specifically, synthesis of myeloid cell leukemia 1 (MCL1), an antiapoptotic protein known to play a role in cancer cell survival during cell division, depends on the function of MELK-elF4B. Inactivation of MELK or eIF4B results in reduced protein synthesis of MCL1, which, in turn, induces apoptotic cell death of cancer cells. Our study thus defines a MELK-eIF4B signaling axis that regulates protein synthesis during mitosis, and consequently influences cancer cell survival.
Microtubule asters - radial arrays of microtubules organized by centrosomes - play a fundamental role in the spatial coordination of animal cells. The standard model of aster growth assumes a fixed number of microtubules originating from the centrosomes. However, aster morphology in this model does not scale with cell size, and we recently found evidence for non-centrosomal microtubule nucleation. Here, we combine autocatalytic nucleation and polymerization dynamics to develop a biophysical model of aster growth. Our model predicts that asters expand as traveling waves and recapitulates all major aspects of aster growth. With increasing nucleation rate, the model predicts an explosive transition from stationary to growing asters with a discontinuous jump of the aster velocity to a nonzero value. Experiments in frog egg extract confirm the main theoretical predictions. Our results suggest that asters observed in large fish and amphibian eggs are a meshwork of short, unstable microtubules maintained by autocatalytic nucleation and provide a paradigm for the assembly of robust and evolvable polymer networks.
For many years, microtubule research has depended on tubulin purified from cow and pig brains, which may not be ideal for experiments using proteins or extracts from non-brain tissues and cold-blooded organisms. Here, we describe a method to purify functional tubulin from the eggs of the frog, Xenopus laevis. This tubulin has many benefits for the study of microtubules and microtubule based structures assembled in vitro at room temperature. Frog tubulin lacks many of the highly stabilizing posttranslational modifications present in pig brain-derived tubulin, and polymerizes efficiently at room temperature. In addition, fluorescently labeled frog egg tubulin incorporates into meiotic spindles assembled in egg extract more efficiently than brain tubulin, and is thus superior as a probe for Xenopus egg extract experiments. Frog egg tubulin will provide excellent opportunities to identify active nucleation complexes and revisit microtubule polymerization dynamics in vitro.
Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase 1 (PARP1) synthesizes poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR), an essential post-translational modification whose function is important in many cellular processes including DNA damage signaling, cell death, and inflammation. All known PAR biology is intracellular, but we suspected it might also play a role in cell-to-cell communication during inflammation. We found that PAR activated cytokine release in human and mouse macrophages, a hallmark of innate immune activation, and determined structure-activity relationships. PAR was rapidly internalized by murine macrophages, while the monomer, ADP-ribose, was not. Inhibitors of Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) and TLR4 signaling blocked macrophage responses to PAR, and PAR induced TLR2 and TLR4 signaling in reporter cell lines suggesting it was recognized by these TLRs, much like bacterial pathogens. We propose that PAR acts as an extracellular damage associated molecular pattern that drives inflammatory signaling.
Quantification of cell-cycle state at a single-cell level is essential to understand fundamental three-dimensional (3D) biological processes such as tissue development and cancer. Analysis of 3D in vivo images, however, is very challenging. Today's best practice, manual annotation of select image events, generates arbitrarily sampled data distributions, which are unsuitable for reliable mechanistic inferences. Here, we present an integrated workflow for quantitative in vivo cell-cycle profiling. It combines image analysis and machine learning methods for automated 3D segmentation and cell-cycle state identification of individual cell-nuclei with widely varying morphologies embedded in complex tumor environments. We applied our workflow to quantify cell-cycle effects of three antimitotic cancer drugs over 8 d in HT-1080 fibrosarcoma xenografts in living mice using a data set of 38,000 cells and compared the induced phenotypes. In contrast to results with 2D culture, observed mitotic arrest was relatively low, suggesting involvement of additional mechanisms in their antitumor effect in vivo.
The composition of the nucleoplasm determines the behavior of key processes such as transcription, yet there is still no reliable and quantitative resource of nuclear proteins. Furthermore, it is still unclear how the distinct nuclear and cytoplasmic compositions are maintained. To describe the nuclear proteome quantitatively, we isolated the large nuclei of frog oocytes via microdissection and measured the nucleocytoplasmic partitioning of ∼9,000 proteins by mass spectrometry. Most proteins localize entirely to either nucleus or cytoplasm; only ∼17% partition equally. A protein's native size in a complex, but not polypeptide molecular weight, is predictive of localization: partitioned proteins exhibit native sizes larger than ∼100 kDa, whereas natively smaller proteins are equidistributed. To evaluate the role of nuclear export in maintaining localization, we inhibited Exportin 1. This resulted in the expected re-localization of proteins toward the nucleus, but only 3% of the proteome was affected. Thus, complex assembly and passive retention, rather than continuous active transport, is the dominant mechanism for the maintenance of nuclear and cytoplasmic proteomes.
The cell surface is the cellular compartment responsible for communication with the environment. The interior of mammalian cells undergoes dramatic reorganization when cells enter mitosis. These changes are triggered by activation of the CDK1 kinase and have been studied extensively. In contrast, very little is known of the cell surface changes during cell division. We undertook a quantitative proteomic comparison of cell surface-exposed proteins in human cancer cells that were tightly synchronized in mitosis or interphase. Six hundred and twenty-eight surface and surface-associated proteins in HeLa cells were identified; of these, 27 were significantly enriched at the cell surface in mitosis and 37 in interphase. Using imaging techniques, we confirmed the mitosis-selective cell surface localization of protocadherin PCDH7, a member of a family with anti-adhesive roles in embryos. We show that PCDH7 is required for development of full mitotic rounding pressure at the onset of mitosis. Our analysis provided basic information on how cell cycle progression affects the cell surface. It also provides potential pharmacodynamic biomarkers for anti-mitotic cancer chemotherapy.
The first 12 cleavage divisions in Xenopus embryos provide a natural experiment in size scaling, as cell radius decreases ∼16-fold with little change in biochemistry. Analyzing both natural cleavage and egg extract partitioned into droplets revealed that mitotic spindle size scales with cell size, with an upper limit in very large cells. We discuss spindle-size scaling in the small- and large-cell regimes with a focus on the "limiting-component" hypotheses. Zygotes and early blastomeres show a scaling mismatch between spindle and cell size. This problem is solved, we argue, by interphase asters that act to position the spindle and transport chromosomes to the center of daughter cells. These tasks are executed by the spindle in smaller cells. We end by discussing possible mechanisms that limit mitotic aster size and promote interphase aster growth to cell-spanning dimensions.
Mitotic spindles specify cleavage planes in early embryos by communicating their position and orientation to the cell cortex using microtubule asters that grow out from the spindle poles during anaphase. Chromatin also plays a poorly understood role. Polyspermic fertilization provides a natural experiment in which aster pairs from the same spindle (sister asters) have chromatin between them, whereas asters pairs from different spindles (nonsisters) do not. In frogs, only sister aster pairs induce furrows. We found that only sister asters recruited two conserved furrow-inducing signaling complexes, chromosome passenger complex (CPC) and Centralspindlin, to a plane between them. This explains why only sister pairs induce furrows. We then investigated factors that influenced CPC recruitment to microtubule bundles in intact eggs and a cytokinesis extract system. We found that microtubule stabilization, optimal starting distance between asters, and proximity to chromatin all favored CPC recruitment. We propose a model in which proximity to chromatin biases initial CPC recruitment to microtubule bundles between asters from the same spindle. Next a positive feedback between CPC recruitment and microtubule stabilization promotes lateral growth of a plane of CPC-positive microtubule bundles out to the cortex to position the furrow.
Cell division in prokaryotes and eukaryotes is commonly initiated by the well-controlled binding of proteins to the cytoplasmic side of the cell membrane. However, a precise characterization of the spatiotemporal dynamics of membrane-bound proteins is often difficult to achieve in vivo. Here, we present protocols for the use of supported lipid bilayers to rebuild the cytokinetic machineries of cells with greatly different dimensions: the bacterium Escherichia coli and eggs of the vertebrate Xenopus laevis. Combined with total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy, these experimental setups allow for precise quantitative analyses of membrane-bound proteins. The protocols described to obtain glass-supported membranes from bacterial and vertebrate lipids can be used as starting points for other reconstitution experiments. We believe that similar biochemical assays will be instrumental to study the biochemistry and biophysics underlying a variety of complex cellular tasks, such as signaling, vesicle trafficking, and cell motility.