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Concept: Spindle apparatus


The correct assembly and timely disassembly of the mitotic spindle is crucial for the propagation of the genome during cell division. Aurora kinases play a central role in orchestrating bipolar spindle establishment, chromosome alignment and segregation. In most eukaryotes, ranging from amoebas to humans, Aurora activity appears to be required both at the spindle pole and the kinetochore, and these activities are often split between two different Aurora paralogues, termed Aurora A and B. Polar and equatorial functions of Aurora kinases have generally been considered separately, with Aurora A being mostly involved in centrosome dynamics, whereas Aurora B coordinates kinetochore attachment and cytokinesis. However, double inactivation of both Aurora A and B results in a dramatic synergy that abolishes chromosome segregation. This suggests that these two activities jointly coordinate mitotic progression. Accordingly, recent evidence suggests that Aurora A and B work together in both spindle assembly in metaphase and disassembly in anaphase. Here, we provide an outlook on these shared functions of the Auroras, discuss the evolution of this family of mitotic kinases and speculate why Aurora kinase activity may be required at both ends of the spindle microtubules.

Concepts: Cell, Eukaryote, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Aurora kinase, Motor protein, Spindle apparatus


Active nuclear import of Ran exchange factor RCC1 is mediated by importin α3. This pathway is essential to generate a gradient of RanGTP on chromatin that directs nucleocytoplasmic transport, mitotic spindle assembly and nuclear envelope formation. Here we identify the mechanisms of importin α3 selectivity for RCC1. We find this isoform binds RCC1 with one order of magnitude higher affinity than the generic importin α1, although the two isoforms share an identical NLS-binding groove. Importin α3 uses its greater conformational flexibility to wedge the RCC1 β-propeller flanking the NLS against its lateral surface, preventing steric clashes with its Armadillo-core. Removing the β-propeller, or inserting a linker between NLS and β-propeller, disrupts specificity for importin α3, demonstrating the structural context rather than NLS sequence determines selectivity for isoform 3. We propose importin α3 evolved to recognize topologically complex NLSs that lie next to bulky domains or are masked by quaternary structures.Importin α3 facilitates the nuclear transport of the Ran guanine nucleotide exchange factor RCC1. Here the authors reveal the molecular basis for the selectivity of RCC1 for importin α3 vs the generic importin α1 and discuss the evolution of importin α isoforms.

Concepts: DNA, Cell nucleus, Molecular biology, Mitosis, Spindle apparatus, Nuclear localization signal, Ran, Importin


In many species, oocyte meiosis is carried out in the absence of centrioles. As a result, microtubule organization, spindle assembly, and chromosome segregation proceed by unique mechanisms. Here, we report insights into the principles underlying this specialized form of cell division, through studies of C. elegans KLP-15 and KLP-16, two highly homologous members of the kinesin-14 family of minus-end-directed kinesins. These proteins localize to the acentriolar oocyte spindle and promote microtubule bundling during spindle assembly; following klp-15/16 depletion, microtubule bundles form but then collapse into a disorganized array. Surprisingly, despite this defect we found that during anaphase, microtubules are able to reorganize into a bundled array that facilitates chromosome segregation. This phenotype therefore enabled us to identify factors promoting microtubule organization during anaphase, whose contributions are normally undetectable in wild-type worms; we found that SPD-1 (PRC1) bundles microtubules and KLP-18 (kinesin-12) likely sorts those bundles into a functional orientation capable of mediating chromosome segregation. Therefore, our studies have revealed an interplay between distinct mechanisms that together promote spindle formation and chromosome segregation in the absence of structural cues such as centrioles.

Concepts: Gene, Cell, Eukaryote, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Spindle apparatus, Oocyte, Centriole


Successful completion of mitosis requires that sister kinetochores become attached end-on to the plus ends of spindle microtubules (MTs) in prometaphase, thereby forming kinetochore microtubules (kMTs) that tether one sister to one spindle pole and the other sister to the opposite pole. Sites for kMT attachment provide at least four key functions: robust and dynamic kMT anchorage; force generation that can be coupled to kMT plus-end dynamics; correction of errors in kMT attachment; and control of the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC). The SAC typically delays anaphase until chromosomes achieve metaphase alignment with each sister kinetochore acquiring a full complement of kMTs. Although it has been known for over 30 years that MT motor proteins reside at kinetochores, a highly conserved network of protein complexes, called the KMN network, has emerged in recent years as the primary interface between the kinetochore and kMTs. This Commentary will summarize recent advances in our understanding of the role of the KMN network for the key kinetochore functions, with a focus on human cells.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Eukaryote, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Metaphase, Motor protein, Kinetochore, Spindle apparatus


Kinesin-14s are commonly known as nonprocessive minus end-directed microtubule motors that function mainly for mitotic spindle assembly. Here we show using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy that KlpA-a kinesin-14 from Aspergillus nidulans-is a context-dependent bidirectional motor. KlpA exhibits plus end-directed processive motility on single microtubules, but reverts to canonical minus end-directed motility when anchored on the surface in microtubule-gliding experiments or interacting with a pair of microtubules in microtubule-sliding experiments. Plus end-directed processive motility of KlpA on single microtubules depends on its N-terminal nonmotor microtubule-binding tail, as KlpA without the tail is nonprocessive and minus end-directed. We suggest that the tail is a de facto directionality switch for KlpA motility: when the tail binds to the same microtubule as the motor domain, KlpA is a plus end-directed processive motor; in contrast, when the tail detaches from the microtubule to which the motor domain binds, KlpA becomes minus end-directed.

Concepts: Function, Eukaryote, Total internal reflection fluorescence microscope, Mitosis, Reflection, Motor protein, Spindle apparatus, Cell anatomy


The spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) ensures the accurate segregation of sister chromatids during mitosis. Activation of the SAC occurs through a series of ordered molecular events that result in recruitment of Mad1:Mad2 complexes to improperly attached kinetochores. The current model involves sequential phospho-dependent recruitment of Bub3:Bub1 to KNL1 followed by binding of Mad1:Mad2 to Bub1. Here, we show in non-transformed diploid human cells that the KNL1-Bub3-Bub1 (KBB) pathway is required during normal mitotic progression when kinetochores are misaligned but is nonessential for SAC activation and Mad2 loading when kinetochores are unattached from microtubules. We provide evidence that the Rod-ZW10-Zwilch (RZZ) complex is necessary to recruit Mad1:Mad2 to, and delay anaphase onset in response to, unattached kinetochores independently of the KBB pathway. These data suggest that the KBB and RZZ complexes provide two distinct kinetochore receptors for Mad1:Mad2 and reveal mechanistic differences between SAC activation by unattached and improperly attached kinetochores.

Concepts: Cell cycle, Centromere, Mitosis, Meiosis, Kinetochore, Spindle apparatus, Chromatid, Spindle checkpoint


Through exome sequencing, we identified six individuals with biallelic loss-of-function mutations in TRIP13. All six developed Wilms tumor. Constitutional mosaic aneuploidies, microcephaly, developmental delay and seizures, which are features of mosaic variegated aneuploidy (MVA) syndrome, were more variably present. Through functional studies, we show that TRIP13-mutant patient cells have no detectable TRIP13 and have substantial impairment of the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), leading to a high rate of chromosome missegregation. Accurate segregation, as well as SAC proficiency, is rescued by restoring TRIP13 function. Individuals with biallelic TRIP13 or BUB1B mutations have a high risk of embryonal tumors, and here we show that their cells display severe SAC impairment. MVA due to biallelic CEP57 mutations, or of unknown cause, is not associated with embryonal tumors and cells from these individuals show minimal SAC deficiency. These data provide insights into the complex relationships between aneuploidy and carcinogenesis.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Mutation, Oncology, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Aneuploidy, Spindle apparatus


Most human pre-implantation embryos are mosaics of euploid and aneuploid cells. To determine the fate of aneuploid cells and the developmental potential of mosaic embryos, here we generate a mouse model of chromosome mosaicism. By treating embryos with a spindle assembly checkpoint inhibitor during the four- to eight-cell division, we efficiently generate aneuploid cells, resulting in embryo death during peri-implantation development. Live-embryo imaging and single-cell tracking in chimeric embryos, containing aneuploid and euploid cells, reveal that the fate of aneuploid cells depends on lineage: aneuploid cells in the fetal lineage are eliminated by apoptosis, whereas those in the placental lineage show severe proliferative defects. Overall, the proportion of aneuploid cells is progressively depleted from the blastocyst stage onwards. Finally, we show that mosaic embryos have full developmental potential, provided they contain sufficient euploid cells, a finding of significance for the assessment of embryo vitality in the clinic.

Concepts: Embryo, Fetus, Developmental biology, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mammal, Zygote, Spindle apparatus


The planarian Schmidtea mediterranea is an important model for stem cell research and regeneration, but adequate genome resources for this species have been lacking. Here we report a highly contiguous genome assembly of S. mediterranea, using long-read sequencing and a de novo assembler (MARVEL) enhanced for low-complexity reads. The S. mediterranea genome is highly polymorphic and repetitive, and harbours a novel class of giant retroelements. Furthermore, the genome assembly lacks a number of highly conserved genes, including critical components of the mitotic spindle assembly checkpoint, but planarians maintain checkpoint function. Our genome assembly provides a key model system resource that will be useful for studying regeneration and the evolutionary plasticity of core cell biological mechanisms.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Organism, Developmental biology, Model organism, Spindle apparatus


BubR1 is a key component of the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC). Mutations that reduce BubR1 abundance cause aneuploidization and tumorigenesis in humans and mice, whereas BubR1 overexpression protects against these. However, how supranormal BubR1 expression exerts these beneficial physiological impacts is poorly understood. Here, we used Bub1b mutant transgenic mice to explore the role of the amino-terminal (BubR1(N)) and internal (BubR1(I)) Cdc20-binding domains of BubR1 in preventing aneuploidy and safeguarding against cancer. BubR1(N) was necessary, but not sufficient to protect against aneuploidy and cancer. In contrast, BubR1 lacking the internal Cdc20-binding domain provided protection against both, which coincided with improved microtubule-kinetochore attachment error correction and SAC activity. Maximal SAC reinforcement occurred when both the Phe- and D-box of BubR1(I) were disrupted. Thus, while under- or overexpression of most mitotic regulators impairs chromosome segregation fidelity, certain manipulations of BubR1 can positively impact this process and therefore be therapeutically exploited.

Concepts: Gene expression, Cancer, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Protection, Aneuploidy, Spindle apparatus