Individual dynamic microtubules can generate pushing or pulling forces when their growing or shrinking ends are in contact with cellular objects such as the cortex or chromosomes. These microtubules can operate in parallel bundles, for example when interacting with mitotic chromosomes. Here, we investigate the force-generating capabilities of a bundle of growing microtubules and study the effect that force has on the cooperative dynamics of such a bundle. We used an optical tweezers setup to study microtubule bundles growing against a microfabricated rigid barrier in vitro. We show that multiple microtubules can generate a pushing force that increases linearly with the number of microtubules present. In addition, the bundle can cooperatively switch to a shrinking state, due to a force-induced coupling of the dynamic instability of single microtubules. In the presence of GMPCPP, bundle catastrophes no longer occur, and high bundle forces are reached more effectively. We reproduce the observed behavior with a simple simulation of microtubule bundle dynamics that takes into account previously measured force effects on single microtubules. Using this simulation, we also show that a constant compressive force on a growing bundle leads to oscillations in bundle length that are of potential relevance for chromosome oscillations observed in living cells.

Laan, L., Husson, J., Munteanu, E. L., Kerssemakers, J. W. J., & Dogterom, M. (2008). Force-generation and dynamic instability of microtubule bundles. PNAS, 105, 8920–8925. doi:10.1073/pnas.0710311105