Macroscopic simulations of microtubule dynamics predict two steady-state processes governing array morphology


Microtubule polymers typically function through their collective organization into a patterned array. The formation of the pattern, whether it is a relatively simple astral array or a highly complex mitotic spindle, relies on controlled microtubule nucleation and the basal dynamics parameters governing polymer growth and shortening. We have investigated the interaction between the microtubule nucleation and dynamics parameters, using macroscopic Monte Carlo simulations, to determine how these parameters contribute to the underlying microtubule array morphology (i.e. polymer density and length distribution). In addition to the well-characterized steady state achieved between free tubulin subunits and microtubule polymer, we propose that microtubule nucleation and extinction constitute a second, interdependent steady state process. Our simulation studies show that the magnitude of both nucleation and extinction additively impacts the final steady state free subunit concentration. We systematically varied individual microtubule dynamics parameters to survey the effects on array morphology and find specific sensitivity to perturbations of catastrophe frequency. Altering the cellular context for the microtubule array, we find that nucleation template number plays a defining role in shaping the microtubule length distribution and polymer density. (c) 2011 Published by Elsevier Ltd.