Centrosomes direct the organization of microtubules in animal cells. However, in the absence of centrosomes, cytoplasm has the potential to organize microtubules and assemble complex structures such as anastral spindles. During cell replication or following fertilization, centrioles that are incapable of organizing microtubules into astral arrays are introduced into this complex cytoplasmic environment. These centrioles become associated with pericentriolar material responsible for centrosome-dependent microtubule nucleation, and thus the centrosome matures to ultimately become a dominant microtubule organizing center that serves as a central organizer of cell cytoplasm. We describe the identification of a novel structure within the pericentriolar material of centrosomes called the centromatrix. The centromatrix is a salt-insoluble filamentous scaffold to which subunit structures that are necessary for microtubule nucleation and abundant in the cytoplasm bind. We propose that the centromatrix serves to concentrate and focus these subunits to form the microtubule organizing center. Since binding of these subunits to the centromatrix does not require nucleotides, we propose a model for centrosome assembly which predicts that the assembly of the centromatrix is a rate-limiting step in centrosome assembly and maturation. (C) 1999 Editions scientifiques et medicales Elsevier SAS.