A newly discovered method (Heidemann and McIntosh, 1980, Nature [Lond.] 286:517) for displaying the molecular polarity of microtubules (MTs) has been slightly modified and applied to the midbodies of cultured mammalian cells and the phragmoplasts of Haemanthus endosperm. The method involves the decoration of preexisting MTs in lysed cells with curved ribbons of tubulin protofilaments; the direction of curvature of these C-shaped appendages as seen in cross section reflects the intrinsic polarity of the MTs. In travsverse sections of midbodies from HeLa and PtK cells, we find that essentially all the MTs in a given region of the structures have the same direction of hook curvature, and hence the same polarity. The midbody MTs that lie on one side of the spindle equator show the opposite polarity from those on the other side, indicating that the midbody is constructed from two families of antiparallel MTs. Midbody MTs are arranged with their fast-growing ends overlapping at the spindle equator, consistent with the hypothesis that the midbody is formed by the interdigitation of aster MTs. The polarities of the MTs from the phragmoplast of endosperm cells are the same as those found in the mammalian midbody. Our results eliminate one model for mitosis, but are consistent with others. The systematic and reproducible polarities observed favor the concept that MT polarity is an important factor in the formation and/or the function of these two mitotic structures.

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