Microtubules (MTs) are dynamic protein polymers that change their length by switching between growing and shrinking states in a process termed “dynamic instability” {Mitchison, 1984 #643;Desai, 1997 #74}. It has been suggested that the dynamic properties of MTs are central to the organization of the eukaryotic intracellular space, and that they are involved in the control of cell morphology, but the actual mechanisms are not well understood. Here, we present a theoretical analysis in which we explore the possibility that a system of dynamic MTs and ‘MT end-tracking’ molecular motors is providing specific positional information inside cells. We compute the MT length distribution for the case of MT-length-dependent switching between growing and shrinking states, and analyse the accumulation of molecular motors at the tips of growing MTs. Using these results, we show that a transport system consisting of dynamic MTs and associated motor proteins can deliver cargo proteins preferentially to specific positions within the cell. Comparing our results with experimental data in the model organism fission yeast, we propose that the suggested mechanisms could play important roles in setting length scales during cellular morphogenesis.

Additional Metadata
Reviewer B.M. Mulder (Bela)
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2010.05.026
Journal Biophys. J.
Tischer, C, ten Wolde, P.R, & Dogterom, M. (2010). Providing positional information with active transport on dynamic microtubules. Biophys. J., 99(3), 726–735. doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2010.05.026