Role of tubulin-associated proteins in microtubule nucleation and elongation

Douglas B. Murphy, Kenneth A. Johnson, Gary G. Borisy

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137 Scopus citations


Previous experiments have shown that a fraction of microtubule-associated proteins is essential for the self-assembly of microtubules in vitro. When tubulin was titrated with increasing concentrations of these non-tubulin accessory factors, both the rate and extent of polymerization increased in a sigmoidal as opposed to a stoichiometric fashion. The non-tubulin proteins promoted the nucleation of microtubules as determined from the analysis of the kinetics of tubulin selfassembly and the examination of the microtubule length distribution following polymerization. The effect of the non-tubulin factors on microtubule elongation was determined by kinetic experiments in which purified tubulin subunits were added to microtubule seeds and the initial rate of polymerization was measured under conditions where spontaneous self-assembly was below detectable levels. In addition, microtubule growth was also observed when isolated flagellar axonemes were incubated with purified tubulin subunits indicating that the non-tubulin factors were not an absolute requirement for elongation. Analysis of the data in terms of the condensation mechanism of microtubule assembly indicated that the non-tubulin proteins stimulated the growth of microtubules not by increasing the rate of polymerization but by decreasing the rate of depolyerization. The mechanism by which these accessory factors promote tubulin assembly may be summarized as follows: under the conditions employed, they are required for tubulin initiation but not for elongation; the factors affect the extent and net rate at which polymer is formed by binding to the polymer, thereby stabilizing the formed microtubules and consequently shifting the equilibrium to favor assembly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-52
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 25 1977
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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