Microtubules are long cylindrical polymers composed of tubulin subunits. In cells, microtubules play an essential role in architecture and motility. For example, microtubules give shape to cells, serve as intracellular transport tracks, and act as key elements in important cellular structures such as axonemes and mitotic spindles. To accomplish these varied functions, networks of microtubules in cells are very dynamic, continuously remodeling through stochastic length fluctuations at the ends of individual microtubules. The dynamic behavior at the end of an individual microtubule is termed 'dynamic instability'. This behavior manifests itself by periods of persistent microtubule growth interrupted by occasional switching to rapid shrinkage (called microtubule 'catastrophe'), and then by switching back from shrinkage to growth (called microtubule 'rescue'). In this review, we summarize recent findings which provide new insights into the mechanisms of microtubule catastrophe and rescue, and discuss the impact of these findings in regards to the role of microtubule dynamics inside of cells.
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We thank A. Trushko and M. Kauer for technical assistance with figures, and the members of Gardner and Howard laboratories for discussions. M.K.G. is supported by a grant from the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences , and M.Z. by a Cross-Disciplinary Fellowship from the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization .