December 16, 2011

Divvying up chromosomes

Cell in mitosis
(Benedict Campbell/Wellcome Images)

Mitosis, or the separation of chromosomes during cell division, is driven by dynamic interactions between the kinetochore region on chromosomes and string-like structures called microtubules. A number of proteins, including the enzyme Cdk1, regulate these interactions, but it is unclear what kinetochore components such enzymes work upon.

Kathy Gould, professor of cell and developmental biology, and colleagues have identified the kinetochore protein Nsk1 as a novel substrate for Cdk1 and have characterized its role in kinetochore-microtubule interactions. They show Nsk1 promotes proper interactions between the kinetochore and microtubules; therefore, cells lacking Nsk1 show errors in chromosome segregation. Nsk1’s role in this process is regulated by addition of phosphate groups (phosphorylation). Mutant Nsk1 (which can’t be phosphorylated) binds prematurely to kinetochores and spindle, and leads to even more severe defects in mitosis. The results reported in the Nov. 14 issue of the Journal of Cell Biology establish new roles for these proteins in ensuring appropriate chromosome segregation during cell division.