Transient Pinning and Pulling: A Mechanism for Bending Microtubules. Academic Article uri icon


  • Microtubules have a persistence length of the order of millimeters in vitro, but inside cells they bend over length scales of microns. It has been proposed that polymerization forces bend microtubules in the vicinity of the cell boundary or other obstacles, yet bends develop even when microtubules are polymerizing freely, unaffected by obstacles and cell boundaries. How these bends are formed remains unclear. By tracking the motions of microtubules marked by photobleaching, we found that in LLC-PK1 epithelial cells local bends develop primarily by plus-end directed transport of portions of the microtubule contour towards stationary locations (termed pinning points) along the length of the microtubule. The pinning points were transient in nature, and their eventual release allowed the bends to relax. The directionality of the transport as well as the overall incidence of local bends decreased when dynein was inhibited, while myosin inhibition had no observable effect. This suggests that dynein generates a tangential force that bends microtubules against stationary pinning points. Simulations of microtubule motion and polymerization accounting for filament mechanics and dynein forces predict the development of bends of size and shape similar to those observed in cells. Furthermore, simulations show that dynein-generated bends at a pinning point near the plus end can cause a persistent rotation of the tip consistent with the observation that bend formation near the tip can change the direction of microtubule growth. Collectively, these results suggest a simple physical mechanism for the bending of growing microtubules by dynein forces accumulating at pinning points.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Kent, I. A., Rane, P. S., Dickinson, R. B., Ladd, A., & Lele, T. P.

citation count

  • 16

complete list of authors

  • Kent, Ian A||Rane, Parag S||Dickinson, Richard B||Ladd, Anthony JC||Lele, Tanmay P

editor list (cited editors)

  • Komarova, Y.

publication date

  • March 2016