Kinetochore microtubules are known to be differentially stable to a variety of microtubule depolymerization agents compared to the non-kinetochore polar microtubules, but the dynamics of microtubule attachment to the kinetochore is currently controversial. We have examined the stability of kinetochore microtubules in metaphase PtK1 spindles at 23 degrees C when microtubule assembly is abruptly blocked with the drug nocodazole. Metaphase cells were incubated in medium containing 34 microM nocodazole for various times before fixation and processing either for immunofluorescence light microscopy or serial-section electron microscopy. Microtubules not associated with kinetochore fibers disappeared completely in less than 1 min. Kinetochore fibers persisted and shortened, as the spindle poles moved close to the chromosomes over a 10–20 min interval. During this shortening process, the number of kinetochore microtubules decreased slowly. The mean number of kinetochore microtubules was 24 +/− 5 in control cells and zero in cells incubated with nocodazole for 20 min. The half-time of microtubule attachment to the kinetochore was approximately 7.5 min. These results show that when microtubule assembly is blocked, kinetochore microtubules shorten more slowly and persist about 10 times longer than the labile polar microtubules. If kinetochore microtubules shorten by tubulin dissociation at their plus-ends like the non-kinetochore polar microtubules, then the microtubule surface lattice must be able to translocate through the kinetochore attachment site without frequent detachment occurring.

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