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Eur J Biochem. 2000 Jun;267(12):3469-76.

Sulfhydryls of tubulin. A probe to detect conformational changes of tubulin.

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Department of Biochemistry, Centenary Campus, Bose Institute, Calcutta, India.


The 20 cysteine residues of tubulin are heterogeneously distributed throughout its three-dimensional structure. In the present work, we have used the reactivity of these cysteine residues with 5, 5'-dithiobis(2-nitrobenzoic acid) (DTNB) as a probe to detect the global conformational changes of tubulin under different experimental conditions. The 20 sulfhydryl groups can be classified into two categories: fast and slow reacting. Colchicine binding causes a dramatic decrease in the reactivity of the cysteine residues and causes complete protection of 1.4 cysteine residues. Similarly, other colchicine analogs that bind reversibly initially decrease the rate of reaction; but unlike colchicine they do not cause complete protection of any sulfhydryl groups. Interestingly, in all cases we find that all the slow reacting sulfhydryl groups are affected to the same extent, that is, have a single rate constant. Glycerol has a major inhibitory effect on all these slow reacting sulfhydryls, suggesting that the reaction of slow reacting cysteines takes place from an open state at equilibrium with the native. Ageing of tubulin at 37 degrees C leads to loss of self-assembly and colchicine binding activity. Using DTNB kinetics, we have shown that ageing leads to complete protection of some of the sulfhydryl groups and increased reaction rate for other slow reacting sulfhydryl groups. Ageing at 37 degrees C also causes aggregation of tubulin as indicated by HPLC analysis. The protection of some sulfhydryl groups may be a consequence of aggregation, whereas the increased rate of reaction of other slow reacting sulfhydryls may be a result of changes in global dynamics. CD spectra and acrylamide quenching support such a notion. Binding of 8-anilino-1-naphthalenesulfonate (ANS) and bis-ANS by tubulin cause complete protection of some cysteine residues as indicated by the DTNB reaction, but has little effect on the other slow reacting cysteines, suggesting local effects.

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