Background: Microtubules in interphase Schizosaccharomyces pombe are essential for maintaining the linear growth habit of these cells. The dynamics of assembly and disassembly of these microtubules are so far uncharacterised. Results: Live cell confocal imaging of α1 tubulin tagged with enhanced green fluorescent protein revealed longitudinally oriented, dynamically unstable interphase microtubule assemblies (IMAs). The IMAs were uniformly bright along their length apart from a zone of approximately doubly intense fluorescence commonly present close to their centres. The ends of each IMA switched from growth (~3.0 μm/min) to shrinkage (~4.5 μm/min) at 1.0 events per minute and from shrinkage to growth at 1.9 events per minute, and the two ends were equivalently dynamic, suggesting equivalent structure. We accordingly propose a symmetrical model for microtubule packing within the IMAs, in which microtubules are plus ends out and overlap close to the equator of the cell. IMAs may contain multiple copies of this motif; if so, then within each IMA end, the microtubule ends must synchronise catastrophe and rescue. When both ends of an IMA lodge in the hemispherical cell ends, the IMAs start to bend under compression and their overall growth rate is inhibited about twofold. Similar microtubule dynamics were observed in cells ranging in size from half to twice normal length. Patterned photobleaching indicated no detectable treadmilling or microtubule sliding during interphase. Conclusions: The consequence of the mechanisms described is continuous recruitment of microtubule ends to the ends of growing cells, supporting microtubule-based transport into the cell ends and qualitatively accounting for the essential role for microtubules in directing linear cell growth in S. pombe.
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