Some cells have a quality control checkpoint that can detect a single misattached chromosome and delay the onset of anaphase, thus allowing time for error correction. The mechanical error in attachment must somehow be linked to the chemical regulation of cell cycle progression. The 3F3 antibody detects phosphorylated kinetochore proteins that might serve as the required link (Gorbsky, G. J., and W. A. Ricketts. 1993. J. Cell Biol. 122:1311-1321). We show by direct micromanipulation experiments that tension alters the phosphorylation of kinetochore proteins. Tension, whether from a micromanipulation needle or from normal mitotic forces, causes dephosphorylation of the kinetochore proteins recognized by 3F3. If tension is absent, either naturally or as a result of chromosome detachment by micromanipulation, the proteins are phosphorylated. Equally direct experiments identify tension as the checkpoint signal: tension from a microneedle on a misattached chromosome leads to anaphase (Li, X., and R. B. Nicklas. 1995. Nature (Lond.). 373:630-632), and we show here that the absence of tension caused by detaching chromosomes from the spindle delays anaphase indefinitely. Thus, the absence of tension is linked to both kinetochore phosphorylation and delayed anaphase onset. We propose that the kinetochore protein dephosphorylation caused by tension is the all clear signal to the checkpoint. The evidence is circumstantial but rich. In any event, tension alters kinetochore chemistry. Very likely, tension affects chemistry directly, by altering the conformation of a tension-sensitive protein, which leads directly to dephosphorylation.

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