Physical properties of the cytoplasm modulate the rates of microtubule polymerization and depolymerization

Arthur T. Molines*, Joël Lemière, Morgan Gazzola, Ida Emilie Steinmark, Claire H. Edrington, Chieh Ting Hsu, Paula Real-Calderon, Klaus Suhling, Gohta Goshima, Liam J. Holt, Manuel Thery, Gary J. Brouhard, Fred Chang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
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The cytoplasm is a crowded, visco-elastic environment whose physical properties change according to physiological or developmental states. How the physical properties of the cytoplasm impact cellular functions in vivo remains poorly understood. Here, we probe the effects of cytoplasmic concentration on microtubules by applying osmotic shifts to fission yeast, moss, and mammalian cells. We show that the rates of both microtubule polymerization and depolymerization scale linearly and inversely with cytoplasmic concentration; an increase in cytoplasmic concentration decreases the rates of microtubule polymerization and depolymerization proportionally, whereas a decrease in cytoplasmic concentration leads to the opposite. Numerous lines of evidence indicate that these effects are due to changes in cytoplasmic viscosity rather than cellular stress responses or macromolecular crowding per se. We reconstituted these effects on microtubules in vitro by tuning viscosity. Our findings indicate that, even in normal conditions, the viscosity of the cytoplasm modulates the reactions that underlie microtubule dynamic behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-479.e6
JournalDevelopmental Cell
Issue number4
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • crowding
  • cytoplasm
  • cytoskeleton dynamics
  • density
  • diffusion
  • fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe
  • microtubules
  • mitosis
  • rheology
  • viscosity


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