Microtubule bending and breaking in living fibroblast cells

David J. Odde, Le Ma, Amelie H. Briggs, Alyssa DeMarco, Marc W. Kirschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Microtubules in living cells frequently bend and occasionally break, suggesting that relatively strong forces act on them. Bending implies an increase in microtubule lattice energy, which could in turn affect the kinetics and thermodynamics of microtubule-associated processes such as breaking. Here we show that the rate of microtubule breaking in fibroblast cells increases ~ 40-fold as the elastic energy stored in curved microtubules increases to > ~ 1 kT/tubuIin dimer. In addition, the length-normalized breaking rate is sufficiently large (2.3 breaks·mm-1·minute-1) to infer that breaking is likely a major mechanism by which noncentrosomal microtubules are generated. Together the results suggest a physiologically important, microtubule-based mechanism for mechanochemical information processing in the cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3283-3288
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of cell science
Issue number19
StatePublished - 1999


  • Cytoskeleton
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Mechanochemistry
  • Molecular biomechanics
  • Tubulin


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