The mitotic spindle is a dynamic assembly of microtubules and microtubule-associated proteins that controls the directed movement of chromosomes during cell division. Because proper segregation of the duplicated genome requires that each daughter cell receives precisely one copy of each chromosome, numerous overlapping mechanisms have evolved to ensure that every chromosome is transported to the cell equator during metaphase. However, due to the inherent redundancy in this system, cellular studies using gene knockdowns or small molecule inhibitors have an inherent limit in defining the sufficiency of precise molecular mechanisms as well as quantifying aspects of their mechanical performance. Thus, there exists a need for novel experimental approaches that reconstitute important aspects of the mitotic spindle in vitro. Here, we show that by microfabricating Cr electrodes on quartz substrates and micropatterning proteins on the electrode surfaces, AC electric fields can be used to assemble opposed bundles of aligned and uniformly oriented microtubules as found in the mitotic spindle. By immobilizing microtubule ends on each electrode, analogous to anchoring at centrosomes, solutions of motor or microtubule binding proteins can be introduced and their resulting dynamics analyzed. Using this "artificial mitotic spindle" we show that beads functionalized with plus-end kinesin motors move in an oscillatory manner analogous to the movements of chromosomes and severed chromosome arms during metaphase. Hence, features of directional instability, an established characteristic of metaphase chromosome dynamics, can be reconstituted in vitro using a pair of uniformly oriented microtubule bundles and a plus-end kinesin functionalized bead.
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