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To study the construction of the ER, we used the microtubule-disrupting drug nocodazole to induce the complete breakdown of ER structure in living cells followed by recovery in drug-free medium, which regenerates the ER network within 15 min. Using the fluorescent dye 3,3'-dihexyloxacarbocyanine iodide to visualize the ER, we have directly observed the network construction process in living cells. In these experiments, the ER network was constructed through an iterative process of extension, branching, and intersection of new ER tubules driven by the ER motility previously described as tubule branching. We have tested the cytoskeletal requirements of this process. We find that newly formed ER tubules are aligned with single microtubules but not actin fibers or vimentin intermediate filaments. Microtubule polymerization preceded the extension of ER tubules and, in experiments with a variety of different drugs, appeared to be a necessary condition for the ER network formation. Furthermore, perturbations of the pattern of microtubule polymerization with microtubule-specific drugs caused exactly correlated perturbations of the pattern of ER construction. Induction of abnormally short, nonintersecting microtubules with 20 microM taxol prevented the ER network formation; ER tubules only extended along the few microtubules contacting the aggregated ER membranes. This requirement for a continuous network of intersecting microtubules indicates that ER network formation takes place through the branching and movement of ER membranes along microtubules. Cytochalasin B had no apparent effect on the construction of the ER network during recovery, despite apparently complete disruption of actin fibers as stained by phalloidin. Blockage of protein synthesis and disorganization of intermediate filaments with cycloheximide pretreatment also failed to perturb ER construction.