Scientists have long thought that microtubules, part of the microscopic scaffolding that the cell uses to move things around in order to hold its shape and divide, originated from a tiny structure near the nucleus, called the centrosome.
Now, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center reveal a surprising new origin for these cellular "highways." In the June issue of Developmental Cell, Irina Kaverina, Ph.D., and colleagues report that the Golgi apparatus -- a stack of pancake-shaped compartments that sorts and ships proteins out to their cellular destinations -- is the source of a particular subset of these microscopic fibers. The findings point to a novel cellular mechanism that may guide cell movement and possibly cancer cell invasion.
Microtubules are the largest of the three main types of filaments that make up the cytoskeleton -- a web of microscopic fibers inside the cell.
They form when two globular proteins, alpha- and beta-tubulin, polymerize into long chains, which then assemble into long, hollow tubes. In order to gain a foothold, nascent microtubule "seeds" must be anchored at a structure near the cell's nucleus called the centrosome or microtubule-organizing center (MTOC).
From the MTOC, the growing microtubules launch out in all directions to the cell's periphery. Their rapid assembly and disassembly helps transport proteins throughout the cell and generate polarized (directional) signal distribution that causes cells to move.
While microtubules in some specialized cells can originate from non-centrosomal structures, the centrosome has been considered the main origination point for microtubule "nucleation" in most cells. Until now.
"I've seen that there are lots of microtubules not attached to the centrosome," said Kaverina, assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and senior author on the paper. "So I am trying to look at their origins."