Astral microtubules are a subpopulation of microtubules, which only exist during and immediately before mitosis. They are defined as any microtubule originating from the centrosome which does not connect to a kinetochore. Astral microtubules develop in the actin skeleton and interact with the cell cortex to aid in spindle orientation. They are organized into radial arrays around the centrosomes. The turn-over rate of this population of microtubules is higher than any other population.
The role of astral microtubules is assisted by dyneins specific to this role. These dyneins have their light chains (static portion) attached to the cell membrane, and their globular parts (dynamic portions) attached to the microtubules. The globular chains attempt to move towards the centrosome, but as they are bound to the cell membrane, this results in pulling the centrosomes towards the membrane, thus assisting cytokinesis.
Astral microtubules are not required for the progression of mitosis, but they are required to ensure the fidelity of the process. The function of astral microtubules can be generally considered as determination of cell geometry. They are absolutely required for correct positioning and orientation of the mitotic spindle apparatus, and are thus involved in determining the cell division site based on the geometry and polarity of the cells.
- Mitosis, Molecular Biology of the Cell, Albert et al 4th Edition.