Towards a quantitative understanding of mitotic spindle assembly and mechanics

Alex Mogilner, Erin Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


The 'simple' view of the mitotic spindle is that it self-assembles as a result of microtubules (MTs) randomly searching for chromosomes, after which the spindle length is maintained by a balance of outward tension exerted by molecular motors on the MTs connecting centrosomes and chromosomes, and compression generated by other motors on the MTs connecting the spindle poles. This picture is being challenged now by mounting evidence indicating that spindle assembly and maintenance rely on much more complex interconnected networks of microtubules, molecular motors, chromosomes and regulatory proteins. From an engineering point of view, three design principles of this molecular machine are especially important: the spindle assembles quickly, it assembles accurately, and it is mechanically robust - yet malleable. How is this design achieved with randomly interacting and impermanent molecular parts? Here, we review recent interdisciplinary studies that have started to shed light on this question. We discuss cooperative mechanisms of spindle self-assembly, error correction and maintenance of its mechanical properties, speculate on analogy between spindle and lamellipodial dynamics, and highlight the role of quantitative approaches in understanding the mitotic spindle design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3435-3445
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cell Science
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 15 2010


  • Cytoskeleton mechanics
  • Error correction
  • Microtubule dynamics
  • Mitotic spindle
  • Self-assembly
  • Viscoelastic gel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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