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Mol Biol Cell. 1996 Apr;7(4):663-75.

Evidence that a single monolayer tubulin-GTP cap is both necessary and sufficient to stabilize microtubules.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 27599-7260, USA.


Evidence that 13 or 14 contiguous tubulin-GTP subunits are sufficient to cap and stabilize a microtubule end and that loss of only one of these subunits results in the transition to rapid disassembly(catastrophe) was obtained using the slowly hydrolyzable GTP analogue guanylyl-(a,b)-methylene-diphosphonate (GMPCPP). The minus end of microtubules assembled with GTP was transiently stabilized against dilution-induced disassembly by reaction with tubulin-GMPCPP subunits for a time sufficient to cap the end with an average 40 subunits. The minimum size of a tubulin-GMPCPP cap sufficient to prevent disassembly was estimated from an observed 25- to 2000-s lifetime of the GMPCPP-stabilized microtubules following dilution with buffer and from the time required for loss of a single tubulin-GMPCPP subunit from the microtubule end (found to be 15 s). Rather than assuming that the 25- to 2000-s dispersion in cap lifetime results from an unlikely 80-fold range in the number of tubulin-GMPCpP subunits added in the 25-s incubation, it is proposed that this results because the minimum stable cap contains 13 to 14 tubulin-GMPCPP subunits. As a consequence, a microtubule capped with 13-14 tubulin-GMPCPP subunits switches to disassembly after only one dissociation event (in about 15 s), whereas the time required for catastrophe of a microtubule with only six times as many subunits (84 subunits) corresponds to 71 dissociation events (84-13). The minimum size of a tubulin-GMPCPP cap sufficient to prevent disassembly was also estimated with microtubules in which a GMPCPP-cap was formed by allowing chance to result in the accumulation of multiple contiguous tubulin-GMPCPP subunits at the end, during the disassembly of microtubules containing both GDP and GMPCPP. Our observation that the disassembly rate was inhibited in proportion to the 13-14th power of the fraction of subunits containing GMPCPP again suggests that a minimum cap contains 13-14 tubulin-GMPCPP subunits. A remeasurement of the rate constant for dissociation of a tubulin-GMPCPP subunit from the plus-end of GMPCPP microtubules, now found to be 0.118 s-1, has allowed a better estimate of the standard free energy for hydrolysis of GMPCPP in a microtubule and release of Pi: this is +0.7 kcal/mol, rather than -0.9 kcal/mol, as previously reported.

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