Mitotic spindle orientation is used to generate cell fate diversity and drive proper tissue morphogenesis. A complex of NuMA and dynein/dynactin is required for robust spindle orientation in a number of cell types. Previous research proposed that cortical dynein/dynactin was sufficient to generate forces on astral microtubules (MTs) to orient the spindle, with NuMA acting as a passive tether. In this study, we demonstrate that dynein/dynactin is insufficient for spindle orientation establishment in keratinocytes and that NuMA’s MT-binding domain, which targets MT tips, is also required. Loss of NuMA-MT interactions in skin caused defects in spindle orientation and epidermal differentiation, leading to neonatal lethality. In addition, we show that NuMA-MT interactions are also required in adult mice for hair follicle morphogenesis and spindle orientation within the transit-amplifying cells of the matrix. Loss of spindle orientation in matrix cells results in defective differentiation of matrix-derived lineages. Our results reveal an additional and direct function of NuMA during mitotic spindle positioning, as well as a reiterative use of spindle orientation in the skin to build diverse structures.
Before a cell divides, it must duplicate its DNA so that each new cell receives a complete set of genetic material. A structure called the mitotic spindle helps to ensure each new cell gets the correct amount of DNA. Cells often precisely position their mitotic spindle during division, and this spindle orientation is important for generating different types of cells and for establishing the three-dimensional structure of tissues. How cells rotate their spindles into the correct position is not well understood, but a protein called NuMA is important for this process.
Seldin et al. developed genetic tools that could disrupt spindle orientation in specific types of cells to determine where this orientation is important for proper tissue development. This revealed that the correct placement of the mitotic spindle is important for the development of the skin of mouse embryos and the formation of the hair of adult mice. Seldin et al. also found that the NuMA protein binds to the tips of the microtubules that make up the mitotic spindle. This binding activity is important for NuMA to be able to position the mitotic spindle correctly in the cell. The findings suggest similarities between how cells orient mitotic spindles and how they segregate DNA during cell division.
More work is now needed to better understand how NuMA collaborates with force-generating molecular motors to precisely orient the mitotic spindle in the cell. In addition, understanding how spindle orientation dictates the fate of cells in the skin is an important future goal.