Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

First Advisor

Jason K. Stumpff

Second Advisor

Sylvie Doublié


Chromosome alignment is highly conserved in all eukaryotic cell divisions. Microtubule (MT) -based forces generated by the mitotic spindle are integral for proper chromosome alignment and equal chromosome segregation. The kinetochore is a multi-subunit protein complex that assembles on centromeric regions of chromosomes. Kinetochores tether chromosomes to MTs (K fibers) that emanate from opposite poles, in a process called biorientation. This linkage translates K fiber dynamics into chromosome movements during alignment and segregation. Stable, high-affinity kinetochore attachments promote spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) silencing, which is active when unattached kinetochores are present. During chromosome alignment, 1) K fiber plus-end dynamics decrease, confining chromosome movements near the spindle equator, and 2) electrostatic interactions between kinetochore proteins and MTs increase. Chromosome segregation occurs as soon as all chromosomes are stably attached to microtubules and the SAC has been silenced. SAC silencing and chromosome alignment are temporally coordinated during normal divisions, implying that the mechanisms regulating K fiber dynamics and kinetochore affinity must be linked. Interestingly, HeLa cells depleted of a kinesin-8 motor Kif18A, known for its role in promoting chromosome alignment, display a SAC-dependent mitotic delay due to kinetochore-MT attachment defects. This is puzzling, as Kif18A's function in chromosome alignment is to suppress MT growth by stably associating with MT plus-ends. Whether Kif18A is required for attachment in all cells and how it promotes kinetochore microtubule linkages are not understood.

The work presented in this dissertation supports a model in which Kif18A functions as a molecular link that coordinates chromosome alignment and anaphase onset. We find that Kif18A is required to stabilize kinetochore-MT attachments during mammalian germline development, as germline precursor cells in Kif18A mutant mice are unable to divide during embryogenesis due to an active SAC. However, while all cell types require functional Kif18A for chromosome alignment, mouse primary somatic cells can still divide with normal timing. This finding indicates a cell-type specific dependence on Kif18A for stabilizing kinetochore-MT attachments, and provides evidence that this function might be separate from Kif18A's known role in chromosome alignment. Consistent with this idea, we find that an evolutionarily conserved binding motif for protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) is required for Kif18A's novel role in regulating kinetochore microtubule attachments. Kif18A-PP1 interaction is required for Kif18A-mediated dephosphorylation of the kinetochore protein Hec1, which enhances attachment. However, Kif18A's interaction with PP1 is dispensable for chromosome alignment. Thus, point mutations that disrupt PP1 binding separate Kif18A's role in stabilizing kinetochore attachments from its function in promoting chromosome alignment. Additionally, through structure function studies of the motor domain, we identified a long surface loop (Loop2) that is required for Kif18A's unique MT plus-end binding activity, which is essential for its function in confining chromosome movements. Taken together, we find that Kif18A is molecularly tuned to provide temporal control of chromosome alignment and anaphase entry.



Number of Pages

181 p.

Included in

Cell Biology Commons