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Mol Biol Cell. 1997 June; 8(6): 973–985.
PMCID: PMC305707

Nanomolar concentrations of nocodazole alter microtubule dynamic instability in vivo and in vitro.


Previous studies demonstrated that nanomolar concentrations of nocodazole can block cells in mitosis without net microtubule disassembly and resulted in the hypothesis that this block was due to a nocodazole-induced stabilization of microtubules. We tested this hypothesis by examining the effects of nanomolar concentrations of nocodazole on microtubule dynamic instability in interphase cells and in vitro with purified brain tubulin. Newt lung epithelial cell microtubules were visualized by video-enhanced differential interference contrast microscopy and cells were perfused with solutions of nocodazole ranging in concentration from 4 to 400 nM. Microtubules showed a loss of the two-state behavior typical of dynamic instability as evidenced by the addition of a third state where they exhibited little net change in length (a paused state). Nocodazole perfusion also resulted in slower elongation and shortening velocities, increased catastrophe, and an overall decrease in microtubule turnover. Experiments performed on BSC-1 cells that were microinjected with rhodamine-labeled tubulin, incubated in nocodazole for 1 h, and visualized by using low-light-level fluorescence microscopy showed similar results except that nocodazole-treated BSC-1 cells showed a decrease in catastrophe. To gain insight into possible mechanisms responsible for changes in dynamic instability, we examined the effects of 4 nM to 12 microM nocodazole on the assembly of purified tubulin from axoneme seeds. At both microtubule plus and minus ends, perfusion with nocodazole resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in elongation and shortening velocities, increase in pause duration and catastrophe frequency, and decrease in rescue frequency. These effects, which result in an overall decrease in microtubule turnover after nocodazole treatment, suggest that the mitotic block observed is due to a reduction in microtubule dynamic turnover. In addition, the in vitro results are similar to the effects of increasing concentrations of GDP-tubulin (TuD) subunits on microtubule assembly. Given that nocodazole increases tubulin GTPase activity, we propose that nocodazole acts by generating TuD subunits that then alter dynamic instability.

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