Microtubules with incomplete cylindrical structure are present in isolated mitotic spindles of the sea urchin, Arbacia punctulata. In cross-section they appear C-shaped, and are thus similar to the ‘C-microtubules’ or ‘C-filaments’ observed previously in other systems. The C-microtubules are not uniformly distributed within isolated spindles, but are typically numerous in the interzonal region of anaphase spindles and in the metaphase chromosome ‘plate’. In chromosome-to-pole regions they are seen much less frequently, and microtubules with the usual O-configuration predominate. Counts of C- and O-microtubules in anaphase spindle cross-sections of known location show an inverse relationship between the number of C-microtubules present and the total number of microtubules present. The observations suggest that the C-microtubules are not simple artifacts of fixation or isolation, but rather may represent a stage of microtubule disassembly which occurs in the interzone during isolation or during anaphase in vivo. The alternate possibility of assembly is not excluded, however. The significance of C-microtubules is further discussed with respect to their occurrence in other systems, and to potential differences between mitotic microtubules.

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