Changes in Cytoplasmic Volume Are Sufficient to Drive Spindle Scaling

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Science  15 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6160, pp. 853-856
DOI: 10.1126/science.1243110

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Scaling Spindle Size

The difficulty of modulating cell size in vivo has made it hard to test hypotheses for organelle size scaling during development. To this end, Hazel et al. (p. 853) and Good et al. (p. 856) developed microfluidic systems in which cytoplasmic extracts are encapsulated in compartments with definable size. The size of mitotic spindles assembled within cell-free extracts scaled with the volume of the compartment within which the spindle assembled. The findings suggest that the diminished availability of cytoplasmic components, notably tubulin, concomitant with cell size reduction, prescribes a smaller spindle size.


The mitotic spindle must function in cell types that vary greatly in size, and its dimensions scale with the rapid, reductive cell divisions that accompany early stages of development. The mechanism responsible for this scaling is unclear, because uncoupling cell size from a developmental or cellular context has proven experimentally challenging. We combined microfluidic technology with Xenopus egg extracts to characterize spindle assembly within discrete, geometrically defined volumes of cytoplasm. Reductions in cytoplasmic volume, rather than developmental cues or changes in cell shape, were sufficient to recapitulate spindle scaling observed in Xenopus embryos. Thus, mechanisms extrinsic to the spindle, specifically a limiting pool of cytoplasmic component(s), play a major role in determining spindle size.

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