Movement and positioning of melanophore pigment organelles depend on microtubule- and actin-dependent motors, but the regulation of these forces are poorly understood. Here, we describe a cell free and fixed time motility assay for the study of the regulation of microtubule-dependent pigment organelle positioning in vitro. The assay involves introduction of microtubule-asters assembled in clam oocyte lysates into lysates prepared from Fundulus heteroclitus melanophores with either aggregated or dispersed pigment. When asters were introduced in lysates prepared from melanophores with dispersed pigment, pigment organelles bound astral microtubules and were evenly distributed throughout the aster. In contrast, when asters were introduced into lysates prepared from melanophores with aggregated pigment, pigment organelles accumulated around the centrosome, mimicking a pigment aggregate. The addition of anti-dynein intermediate chain antibody (m74-1), previously shown to interfere with binding of dynactin to dynein and thereby causing detachment of dynein from organelles, blocked the ATP-dependent aggregation of pigment in vitro and induced a depletion of pigment from the centrosomal area. The results show that dynein is essential for pigment aggregation and involved in maintenance of evenly dispersed pigment in vitro, analogous to cellular evidence, and suggest a possible role for dynactin in these processes as well. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.