The mitotic spindle segregates chromosomes into two daughter cells during cell division. This process relies on the precise regulation of forces acting on chromosomes as the cell progresses through mitosis. The forces in the spindle are difficult to directly measure using the available experimental techniques. Here, we review the ideas and recent advances of how forces can be determined from the spindle shape. By using these approaches, it has been shown that tension and compression coexist along a single kinetochore fiber, which are balanced by a bridging fiber between sister kinetochore fibers. An extension of this approach to three dimensions revealed that microtubule bundles have rich shapes, and extend not simply like meridians on the Earth’s surface but, rather, twisted in a helical manner. Such complex shapes are due to rotational forces, which, in addition to linear forces, act in the spindle and may be generated by motor proteins such as kinesin-5. These findings open new questions for future studies, to understand the mechanisms of rotational forces and reveal their biological roles in cells.
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