Head-to-tail polymerization of microtubules in vitro.



The kinetics of microtubule polymerization to steady-state and the ability of tubulin subunits to exchange with polymer at steady-state were examined to determine the applicability of the head-to-tail polymerization mechanism (Wegner, 1976) to microtubule assembly in vitro. Under conditions where self-nucleation was a rare event, tubulin was induced to polymerize by the addition of short microtubule fragments, and the kinetics of elongation were analyzed as a pseudofirst-order reaction. At steady-state, a trace amount of [3H]tubulin, prepared by labeling in vivo of chick brain protein, was added to polymerized microtubules and the kinetics of label uptake into polymer were monitored by a rapid centrifugal assay. The isotope exchange kinetics were analyzed according to a theoretical model previously applied to actin polymerization (Wegner, 1976) and extended for the case of microtubule polymerization. The rate of head-to-tail polymerization, expressed as the steady-state subunit flux, was 27·6 ± 7·6 per second at 37 °C. The head-to-tail parameter s, a measure of the efficiency of subunit flux, was 0·26 ± 0·07, indicating that four association and four dissociation events resulted in the flux of one subunit through the polymer at steady-state. The role of GTP in this mechanism of microtubule polymerization was examined by replacement of the nucleotide occupying the exchangeable binding site of tubulin with the non-hydrolyzable GTP analog guanosine 5′-(β,γ-methylene)triphosphate. It was found that the rate of steady-state flux was reduced by two orders of magnitude compared to tubulin polymerized with GTP. The head-to-tail parameter approached its limiting value of zero, indicating greatly reduced efficiency of subunit flux through the polymer in the presence of this analog. In summary, this study demonstrates that microtubules exhibit significant headto-tail polymerization in the presence of GTP and, in keeping with theoretical considerations, provides evidence that nucleotide hydrolysis is required for subunit flux through the polymer.


Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences

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Journal of Molecular Biology



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© 1981.