Robert Blackwell, Christopher Edelmaier, Oliver Sweezy-Schindler, Adam Lamson, Zachary Gergely, Eileen O’Toole, Ammon Crapo, Loren Hough, J. Richard McIntosh, Matthew A. Glaser, and Meredith D. Betterton (2017). Science Advances 3, e1601603. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601603. Download.
Mitotic spindles use an elegant bipolar architecture to segregate duplicated chromosomes with high fidelity. Bipolar spindles form from a monopolar initial condition; this is the most fundamental construction problem that the spindle must solve. Microtubules, motors, and cross-linkers are important for bipolarity, but the mechanisms necessary and sufficient for spindle assembly remain unknown. We describe a physical model that exhibits de novo bipolar spindle formation.We began with physical properties of fission-yeast spindle pole body size and microtubule number, kinesin-5 motors, kinesin-14 motors, and passive cross-linkers. Our model results agree quantitatively with our experiments in fission yeast, thereby establishing a minimal system with which to interrogate collective self-assembly. By varying the features of our model, we identify a set of functions essential for the generation and stability of spindle bipolarity. When kinesin-5 motors are present, their bidirectionality is essential, but spindles can form in the presence of passive cross-linkers alone. We also identify characteristic failed states of spindle assembly—the persistent monopole, X spindle, separated asters, and short spindle, which are avoided by the creation and maintenance of antiparallel microtubule overlaps. Our model can guide the identification of new, multifaceted strategies to induce mitotic catastrophes; these would constitute novel strategies for cancer chemotherapy.