A key question in understanding microtubule dynamics is how GTP hydrolysis leads to catastrophe, the switch from slow growth to rapid shrinkage. We first provide a review of the experimental and modeling literature, and then present a new model of microtubule dynamics. We demonstrate that vectorial, random, and coupled hydrolysis mechanisms are not consistent with the dependence of catastrophe on tubulin concentration and show that, although single-protofilament models can explain many features of dynamics, they do not describe catastrophe as a multistep process. Finally, we present a new combined (coupled plus random hydrolysis) multiple-protofilament model that is a simple, analytically solvable generalization of a single-protofilament model. This model accounts for the observed lifetimes of growing microtubules, the delay to catastrophe following dilution and describes catastrophe as a multistep process.
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