Cell division is accompanied by dramatic changes in intracellular architecture as the mitotic spindle assembles, attaches to condensed chromosomes, and accurately distributes them to daughter cells. While spindle assembly has been studied for many years, the mechanisms governing it remain unclear, and we still do not know all of the factors involved. The general goal of the project is to elucidate the principles that underlie the dynamic events of mitosis, as well as to identify and study the roles of individual proteins. Since uncontrolled cell division is at the heart of the cancer problem, a molecular understanding of spindle assembly and function could lead to new approaches for cancer therapy. To study mechanisms of mitosis we use assays based on cytoplasmic extracts prepared from eggs of the frog Xenopus laevis that can recapitulate mitotic spindle assembly and chromosome condensation and segregation in vitro. The egg extract system has the advantage that cell cycle progression can be controlled and mitotic events induced under conditions that lack checkpoints. We have shown that magnetic beads coated with plasmid DNA induce spindle formation in extracts, illustrating the significant role that mitotic chromatin plays in this process. The Xenopus system is also well suited to investigate chromosome condensation, cohesion, and kinetochore formation and function, through the use of sperm chromosomes that can duplicate and undergo anaphase segregation in vitro.
Our specific aims address fundamental questions with regard to chromosome architecture and spindle microtubule organization and dynamics. The general strategies take advantage of the open nature of the extracts, which allows temporally controlled and specific inactivation of individual components, biochemical identification of proteins and characterization of their activities and interactions, biophysical assays, and time-lapse fluorescence microscopy to study chromosome and microtubule morphogenesis at high resolution.
Our aims are: (1) To study how linker histone H1 and its phosphorylation contribute to chromosome architecture and segregation. (2) To investigate the structure and function of Clasp, a (+TIP) protein crucial for chromosome- microtubule interactions during anaphase. (3) To identify and characterize microtubule- membrane linkers that function in cell division and morphogenesis.

Public Health Relevance

During the process of cell division, called mitosis, a critical step for maintaining healthy living cells is the segregation of the replicated chromosomes to the two daughter cells, which is accomplished by a dynamic macromolecular machine called the mitotic spindle. Errors in spindle function are associated the progression of cancer and other human disease. This proposal investigates how chromosomes are packaged during mitosis so that the spindle can physically separate them, how one particular protein called Clasp connects the microtubule fibers of the spindle to the chromosomes, and also aims to identify and characterize new proteins associated with microtubule fibers that also interact with membranes, another spindle component whose role in mitosis is poorly characterized.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Nuclear and Cytoplasmic Structure/Function and Dynamics Study Section (NCSD)
Program Officer
Deatherage, James F
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Berkeley
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Grenfell, Andrew W; Strzelecka, Magdalena; Crowder, Marina E et al. (2016) A versatile multivariate image analysis pipeline reveals features of Xenopus extract spindles. J Cell Biol 213:127-36
Heald, Rebecca; Khodjakov, Alexey (2015) Thirty years of search and capture: The complex simplicity of mitotic spindle assembly. J Cell Biol 211:1103-11
Crowder, Marina E; Strzelecka, Magdalena; Wilbur, Jeremy D et al. (2015) A comparative analysis of spindle morphometrics across metazoans. Curr Biol 25:1542-50
Miller, Kelly E; Heald, Rebecca (2015) Glutamylation of Nap1 modulates histone H1 dynamics and chromosome condensation in Xenopus. J Cell Biol 209:211-20
Heald, Rebecca; Cohen-Fix, Orna (2014) Morphology and function of membrane-bound organelles. Curr Opin Cell Biol 26:79-86
Schlaitz, Anne-Lore; Thompson, James; Wong, Catherine C L et al. (2013) REEP3/4 ensure endoplasmic reticulum clearance from metaphase chromatin and proper nuclear envelope architecture. Dev Cell 26:315-23
Bird, Stephen L; Heald, Rebecca; Weis, Karsten (2013) RanGTP and CLASP1 cooperate to position the mitotic spindle. Mol Biol Cell 24:2506-14
Patel, Kieren; Nogales, Eva; Heald, Rebecca (2012) Multiple domains of human CLASP contribute to microtubule dynamics and organization in vitro and in Xenopus egg extracts. Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 69:155-65
Riggs, Blake; Bergman, Zane J; Heald, Rebecca (2012) Altering membrane topology with Sar1 does not impair spindle assembly in Xenopus egg extracts. Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 69:591-9
Xiao, Botao; Freedman, Benjamin S; Miller, Kelly E et al. (2012) Histone H1 compacts DNA under force and during chromatin assembly. Mol Biol Cell 23:4864-71

Showing the most recent 10 out of 27 publications