During animal cell division, the cleavage furrow is positioned by microtubules that signal to the actin cortex at the cell midplane. We developed a cell-free system to recapitulate cytokinesis signaling using cytoplasmic extract from Xenopus eggs. Microtubules grew out as asters from artificial centrosomes and met to organize antiparallel overlap zones. These zones blocked the interpenetration of neighboring asters and recruited cytokinesis midzone proteins, including the chromosomal passenger complex (CPC) and centralspindlin. The CPC was transported to overlap zones, which required two motor proteins, Kif4A and a Kif20A paralog. Using supported lipid bilayers to mimic the plasma membrane, we observed the recruitment of cleavage furrow markers, including an active RhoA reporter, at microtubule overlaps. This system opens further approaches to understanding the biophysics of cytokinesis signaling.
We report optimized methods for preparing Xenopus egg extracts without cytochalasin D, that we term "actin-intact egg extract." These are undiluted egg cytoplasm that contains abundant organelles, and glycogen which supplies energy, and represents the least perturbed cell-free cytoplasm preparation we know of. We used this system to probe cell cycle regulation of actin and myosin-II dynamics (Field et al., 2011), and to reconstitute the large, interphase asters that organize early Xenopus embryos (Mitchison et al., 2012; Wühr, Tan, Parker, Detrich, & Mitchison, 2010). Actin-intact Xenopus egg extracts are useful for analysis of actin dynamics, and interaction of actin with other cytoplasmic systems, in a cell-free system that closely mimics egg physiology, and more generally for probing the biochemistry and biophysics of the egg, zygote, and early embryo. Detailed protocols are provided along with assays used to check cell cycle state and tips for handling and storing undiluted egg extracts.
A major challenge in cell biology is to understand how nanometer-sized molecules can organize micrometer-sized cells in space and time. One solution in many animal cells is a radial array of microtubules called an aster, which is nucleated by a central organizing center and spans the entire cytoplasm. Frog (here Xenopus laevis) embryos are more than 1 mm in diameter and divide with a defined geometry every 30 min. Like smaller cells, they are organized by asters, which grow, interact, and move to precisely position the cleavage planes. It has been unclear whether asters grow to fill the enormous egg by the same mechanism used in smaller somatic cells, or whether special mechanisms are required. We addressed this question by imaging growing asters in a cell-free system derived from eggs, where asters grew to hundreds of microns in diameter. By tracking marks on the lattice, we found that microtubules could slide outward, but this was not essential for rapid aster growth. Polymer treadmilling did not occur. By measuring the number and positions of microtubule ends over time, we found that most microtubules were nucleated away from the centrosome and that interphase egg cytoplasm supported spontaneous nucleation after a time lag. We propose that aster growth is initiated by centrosomes but that asters grow by propagating a wave of microtubule nucleation stimulated by the presence of preexisting microtubules.
The microtubules that comprise mitotic spindles in animal cells are nucleated at centrosomes and by spindle assembly factors that are activated in the vicinity of chromatin. Indirect evidence has suggested that microtubules also might be nucleated from pre-existing microtubules throughout the spindle, but this process has not been observed directly. Here, we demonstrate microtubule nucleation from the sides of existing microtubules in meiotic Xenopus egg extracts. Daughter microtubules grow at a low branch angle and with the same polarity as mother filaments. Branching microtubule nucleation requires γ-tubulin and augmin and is stimulated by factors previously implicated in chromatin-stimulated nucleation, guanosine triphosphate(GTP)-bound Ran and its effector, TPX2. Because of the rapid amplification of microtubule numbers and the preservation of microtubule polarity, microtubule-dependent microtubule nucleation is well suited for spindle assembly and maintenance.
Mitochondria maintain a constant rate of aerobic respiration over a wide range of oxygen levels. However, the control strategies underlying oxygen homeostasis are still unclear. Using mathematical modeling, we found that the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) responds to oxygen level changes by undergoing compensatory changes in reduced electron carrier levels. This emergent behavior, which we named cosubstrate compensation (CSC), enables the ETC to maintain homeostasis over a wide of oxygen levels. When performing CSC, our ETC models recapitulated a classic scaling relationship discovered by Chance [Chance B (1965) J. Gen. Physiol. 49:163-165] relating the extent of oxygen homeostasis to the kinetics of mitochondrial electron transport. Analysis of an in silico mitochondrial respiratory system further showed evidence that CSC constitutes the dominant control strategy for mitochondrial oxygen homeostasis during active respiration. Our findings indicate that CSC constitutes a robust control strategy for homeostasis and adaptation in cellular biochemical networks.
Previous study of self-organization of Taxol-stabilized microtubules into asters in Xenopus meiotic extracts revealed motor-dependent organizational mechanisms in the spindle. We revisit this approach using clarified cytosol with glycogen added back to supply energy and reducing equivalents. We added probes for NUMA and Aurora B to reveal microtubule polarity. Taxol and dimethyl sulfoxide promote rapid polymerization of microtubules that slowly self-organize into assemblies with a characteristic morphology consisting of paired lines or open circles of parallel bundles. Minus ends align in NUMA-containing foci on the outside, and plus ends in Aurora B-containing foci on the inside. Assemblies have a well-defined width that depends on initial assembly conditions, but microtubules within them have a broad length distribution. Electron microscopy shows that plus-end foci are coated with electron-dense material and resemble similar foci in monopolar midzones in cells. Functional tests show that two key spindle assembly factors, dynein and kinesin-5, act during assembly as they do in spindles, whereas two key midzone assembly factors, Aurora B and Kif4, act as they do in midzones. These data reveal the richness of self-organizing mechanisms that operate on microtubules after they polymerize in meiotic cytoplasm and provide a biochemically tractable system for investigating plus-end organization in midzones.
The flavonoids FAA and DMXAA showed impressive activity against solid tumors in mice but failed clinical trials. They act on a previously unknown molecular target(s) to trigger cytokine release from leukocytes, which causes tumor-specific vascular damage and other antitumor effects. We show that DMXAA is a competitive agonist ligand for mouse STING (stimulator of interferon genes), a receptor for the bacterial PAMP cyclic-di-GMP (c-di-GMP) and an endogenous second messenger cyclic-GMP-AMP. In our structure-activity relationship studies, STING binding affinity and pathway activation activity of four flavonoids correlated with activity in a mouse tumor model measured previously. We propose that STING agonist activity accounts for the antitumor effects of FAA and DMXAA in mice. Importantly, DMXAA does not bind to human STING, which may account for its lack of efficacy or mechanism-related toxicity in man. We propose that STING is a druggable target for a novel innate immune activation mechanism of chemotherapy.
Cells integrate multiple measurement modalities to navigate their environment. Soluble and substrate-bound chemical gradients and physical cues have all been shown to influence cell orientation and migration. Here we investigate the role of asymmetric hydraulic pressure in directional sensing. Cells confined in microchannels identified and chose a path of lower hydraulic resistance in the absence of chemical cues. In a bifurcating channel with asymmetric hydraulic resistances, this choice was preceded by the elaboration of two leading edges with a faster extension rate along the lower resistance channel. Retraction of the "losing" edge appeared to precipitate a final choice of direction. The pressure differences altering leading edge protrusion rates were small, suggesting weak force generation by leading edges. The response to the physical asymmetry was able to override a dynamically generated chemical cue. Motile cells may use this bias as a result of hydraulic resistance, or "barotaxis," in concert with chemotaxis to navigate complex environments.
Cancer cells can be drug resistant due to genetic variation at multiple steps in the drug response pathway, including drug efflux pumping, target mutation, and blunted apoptotic response. These are not discriminated by conventional cell survival assays. Here, we report a rapid and convenient high-content cell-imaging assay that measures multiple physiological changes in cells responding to antimitotic small-molecule drugs. Our one-step, no-wash assay uses three dyes to stain living cells and is much more accurate for scoring weakly adherent mitotic and apoptotic cells than conventional antibody-based assays. We profiled responses of 33 cell lines to 8 antimitotic drugs at multiple concentrations and time points using this assay and deposited our data and assay protocols into a public database (http://lincs.hms.harvard.edu/). Our data discriminated between alternative mechanisms that compromise drug sensitivity to paclitaxel and revealed an unexpected bell-shaped dose-response curve for BI2536, a highly selective inhibitor of Polo-like kinases. Our approach can be generalized, is scalable, and should therefore facilitate identification of molecular biomarkers for mechanisms of drug insensitivity in high-throughput screens and other assays.
Cytotoxic lymphocytes eliminate virus-infected and cancerous cells by immune recognition and killing through the perforin-granzyme pathway. Traditional killing assays measure average target cell lysis at fixed times and high effector:target ratios. Such assays obscure kinetic details that might reveal novel physiology. We engineered target cells to report on granzyme activity, used very low effector:target ratios to observe potential serial killing, and performed low magnification time-lapse imaging to reveal time-dependent statistics of natural killer (NK) killing at the single-cell level. Most kills occurred during serial killing, and a single NK cell killed up to 10 targets over a 6-h assay. The first kill was slower than subsequent kills, especially on poor targets, or when NK signaling pathways were partially inhibited. Spatial analysis showed that sequential kills were usually adjacent. We propose that NK cells integrate signals from the previous and current target, possibly by simultaneous contact. The resulting burst kinetics and spatial coordination may control the activity of NK cells in tissues.
Chromatin structure and dynamics control all aspects of DNA biology yet are poorly understood, especially at large length scales. We developed an approach, displacement correlation spectroscopy based on time-resolved image correlation analysis, to map chromatin dynamics simultaneously across the whole nucleus in cultured human cells. This method revealed that chromatin movement was coherent across large regions (4-5 µm) for several seconds. Regions of coherent motion extended beyond the boundaries of single-chromosome territories, suggesting elastic coupling of motion over length scales much larger than those of genes. These large-scale, coupled motions were ATP dependent and unidirectional for several seconds, perhaps accounting for ATP-dependent directed movement of single genes. Perturbation of major nuclear ATPases such as DNA polymerase, RNA polymerase II, and topoisomerase II eliminated micron-scale coherence, while causing rapid, local movement to increase; i.e., local motions accelerated but became uncoupled from their neighbors. We observe similar trends in chromatin dynamics upon inducing a direct DNA damage; thus we hypothesize that this may be due to DNA damage responses that physically relax chromatin and block long-distance communication of forces.
In metazoans the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) changes during the cell cycle, with the nuclear envelope (NE) disassembling and reassembling during mitosis and the peripheral ER undergoing extensive remodeling. Here we address how ER morphology is generated during the cell cycle using crude and fractionated Xenopus laevis egg extracts. We show that in interphase the ER is concentrated at the microtubule (MT)-organizing center by dynein and is spread by outward extension of ER tubules through their association with plus ends of growing MTs. Fusion of membranes into an ER network is dependent on the guanosine triphosphatase atlastin (ATL). NE assembly requires fusion by both ATL and ER-soluble N-ethyl-maleimide-sensitive factor adaptor protein receptors. In mitotic extracts, the ER converts into a network of sheets connected by ER tubules and loses most of its interactions with MTs. Together, these results indicate that fusion of ER membranes by ATL and interaction of ER with growing MT ends and dynein cooperate to generate distinct ER morphologies during the cell cycle.
A career in science is shaped by many factors, one of the most important being our tastes in research. These typically form early and are shaped by subsequent successes and failures. My tastes run to microscopes, chemistry, and spatial organization of cytoplasm. I will try to identify where they came from, how they shaped my career, and how they continue to evolve. My hope is to inspire young scientists to identify and celebrate their own unique tastes.
Poly-ADP-ribosylation is a post-translational modification that regulates processes involved in genome stability. Breakdown of the poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) polymer is catalysed by poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase (PARG), whose endo-glycohydrolase activity generates PAR fragments. Here we present the crystal structure of PARG incorporating the PAR substrate. The two terminal ADP-ribose units of the polymeric substrate are bound in exo-mode. Biochemical and modelling studies reveal that PARG acts predominantly as an exo-glycohydrolase. This preference is linked to Phe902 (human numbering), which is responsible for low-affinity binding of the substrate in endo-mode. Our data reveal the mechanism of poly-ADP-ribosylation reversal, with ADP-ribose as the dominant product, and suggest that the release of apoptotic PAR fragments occurs at unusual PAR/PARG ratios.
The midbody is a transient structure that connects two daughter cells at the end of cytokinesis, with the principal function being to localize the site of abscission, which physically separates two daughter cells. Despite its importance, understanding of midbody assembly and its regulation is still limited. Here we describe how the structural composition of the midbody changes during progression throughout cytokinesis and explore the functional implications of these changes. Deriving from midzones, midbodies are organized by a set of microtubule interacting proteins that colocalize to a zone of microtubule overlap in the center. We found that these proteins split into three subgroups that relocalize to different parts of the midbody: the bulge, the dark zone, and the flanking zone. We characterized these relocalizations and defined domain requirements for three key proteins: MKLP1, KIF4, and PRC1. Two cortical proteins-anillin and RhoA-localized to presumptive abscission sites in mature midbodies, where they may regulate the endosomal sorting complex required for transport machinery. Finally, we characterized the role of Plk1, a key regulator of cytokinesis, in midbody assembly. Our findings represent the most detailed description of midbody assembly and maturation to date and may help elucidate how abscission sites are positioned and regulated.
To achieve mitosis and cytokinesis, microtubules must assemble into distinct structures at different stages of cell division-mitotic spindles to segregate the chromosomes before anaphase and midzones to keep sister genomes apart and guide the cleavage furrow after anaphase. This temporal regulation is believed to involve Cdk1 kinase, which is inactivated in a switch-like way after anaphase. We found that inhibiting Plk1 caused premature assembly of midzones in cells still in metaphase, breaking the temporal regulation of microtubules. The antiparallel microtubule-bundling protein PRC1 plays a key role in organizing the midzone complex. We found that Plk1 negatively regulates PRC1 through phosphorylation of a single site, Thr-602, near the C-terminus of PRC1. We also found that microtubules stimulated Thr-602 phosphorylation by Plk1. This creates a potential negative feedback loop controlling PRC1 activity. It also made the extent of Thr-602 phosphorylation during mitotic arrest dependent on the mechanism of the arresting drug. Unexpectedly, we could not detect a preanaphase regulatory role for Cdk1 sites on PRC1. We suggest that PRC1 is regulated by Plk1, rather than Cdk1 as previously proposed, because its activity must be spatiotemporally regulated both preanaphase and postanaphase, and Cdk1 activity is too binary for this purpose.
Cytotoxic cancer chemotherapy drugs are believed to gain selectivity by targeting cells that proliferate rapidly. However, the proliferation rate is low in many chemosensitive human cancers, and it is not clear how a drug that only kills dividing cells could promote tumor regression. Four potential solutions to this "proliferation rate paradox" are discussed for the microtubule-stabilizing drug paclitaxel: drug retention in tumors, killing of quiescent cells, targeting of noncancer cells in the tumor, and bystander effects. Testing these potential mechanisms of drug action will facilitate rational improvement of antimitotic chemotherapy and perhaps cytotoxic chemotherapy more generally.
Mitotic arrest induced by antimitotic drugs can cause apoptosis or p53-dependent cell cycle arrest. It can also cause DNA damage, but the relationship between these events has been unclear. Live, single-cell imaging in human cancer cells responding to an antimitotic kinesin-5 inhibitor and additional antimitotic drugs revealed strong induction of p53 after cells slipped from prolonged mitotic arrest into G1. We investigated the cause of this induction. We detected DNA damage late in mitotic arrest and also after slippage. This damage was inhibited by treatment with caspase inhibitors and by stable expression of mutant, noncleavable inhibitor of caspase-activated DNase, which prevents activation of the apoptosis-associated nuclease caspase-activated DNase (CAD). These treatments also inhibited induction of p53 after slippage from prolonged arrest. DNA damage was not due to full apoptosis, since most cytochrome C was still sequestered in mitochondria when damage occurred. We conclude that prolonged mitotic arrest partially activates the apoptotic pathway. This partly activates CAD, causing limited DNA damage and p53 induction after slippage. Increased DNA damage via caspases and CAD may be an important aspect of antimitotic drug action. More speculatively, partial activation of CAD may explain the DNA-damaging effects of diverse cellular stresses that do not immediately trigger apoptosis.
Kinetochores mediate chromosome segregation at mitosis. They are thought to contain both active, force-producing and passive, frictional interfaces with microtubules whose relative locations have been unclear. We inferred mechanical deformation within single kinetochores during metaphase oscillations by measuring average separations between fluorescently labeled kinetochore subunits in living cells undergoing mitosis. Inter-subunit distances were shorter in kinetochores moving toward poles than in those moving away. Inter-subunit separation decreased abruptly when kinetochores switched to poleward movement and decreased further when pulling force increased, suggesting that active force generation during poleward movement compresses kinetochores. The data revealed an active force-generating interface within kinetochores and a separate passive frictional interface located at least 20 nanometers away poleward. Together, these interfaces allow persistent attachment with intermittent active force generation.
Macromolecules enter cells by endocytosis and are sorted to different cellular destinations in early/sorting endosomes. The mechanism and regulation of sorting are poorly understood, although transitions between vesicular and tubular endosomes are important. We found that the antihypertensive drug Prazosin inhibits endocytic sorting by an off-target perturbation of the G protein-coupled receptor dopamine receptor D(3) (DRD3). Prazosin is also a potent cytokinesis inhibitor, likely as a consequence of its effects on endosomes. Prazosin stabilizes a normally transient interaction between DRD3 and the coatomer COPI, a complex involved in membrane transport, and shifts endosomal morphology entirely to tubules, disrupting cargo sorting. RNAi depletion of DRD3 alone also inhibits endocytic sorting, indicating a noncanonical role for a G protein-coupled receptor. Prazosin is a powerful tool for rapid and reversible perturbation of endocytic dynamics.