To study the mechanisms responsible for the regulation of flagellar length, we examined the effects of colchicine and Cytochalasin D (CD) on the growth and maintenance of Chlamydomonas flagella on motile wild type cells as well as on pf 18 cells, whose flagella lack the central microtubules and are immobile. CD had no effect on the regeneration of flagella after deflagellation but it induced fully assembled flagella to shorten at an average rate of 0.03 microns-min. Cells remained fully motile in CD and even stubby flagella continued to move, indicating that flagellar shortening did not selectively disrupt machinery necessary for motility. To observe the effects of the drug on individual cells, pf 18 cells were treated with CD and flagella on cells were monitored by direct observation over a 5-hour period. Flagella on control pf 18 cells maintained their initial lengths throughout the experiment but flagella on CD-treated cells exhibited periods of elongation, shortening, and regrowth suggestive of the dynamic behavior of cytoplasmic microtubules observed in vitro and in vitro. Cells behaved individually, with no two cells exhibiting the same flagellar behavior at any given time although both flagella on any single cell behaved identically. The rate of drug-induced flagellar shortening and elongation in pf 18 cells varied from 0.08 to 0.17 microns-min-1, with each event occurring over 10-60-min periods. Addition of colchicine to wild type and pf 18 cells induced flagella to shorten at an average rate of 0.06 microns-min-1 until the flagella reached an average of 73% of their initial length, after which they exhibited no further shortening or elongation. Cells treated with colchicine and CD exhibited nearly complete flagellar resorption, with little variation in flagellar length among cells. The effects of these drugs were reversible and flagella grew to normal stable lengths after drug removal. Taken together, these results show that the distal half to one-third of the Chlamydomonas flagellum is relatively unstable in the presence of colchicine but that the proximal half to two-thirds of the flagellum is stable to this drug. In contrast to colchicine, CD can induce nearly complete flagellar microtubule disassembly as well as flagellar assembly. Flagellar microtubules must, therefore, be inherently unstable, and flagellar length is stabilized by factors that are sensitive, either directly or indirectly, to the effects of CD.

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