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Mol Biol Cell. 2016 Sep 21. pii: mbc.E16-06-0473. [Epub ahead of print]

The tubulin repertoire of C. elegans sensory neurons and its context-dependent role in process outgrowth.

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*Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305.
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Department of Genetics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ 08854.
Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305 Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125.
*Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305


Microtubules contribute to many cellular processes, including transport, signaling, and chromosome separation during cell division (Kapitein and Hoogenraad, 2015). They are comprised of αβ-tubulin heterodimers arranged into linear protofilaments and assembled into tubes. Eukaryotes express multiple tubulin isoforms (Gogonea et al., 1999), and there has been a longstanding debate as to whether the isoforms are redundant or perform specialized roles as part of a tubulin code (Fulton and Simpson, 1976). Here, we use the well-characterized touch receptor neurons (TRNs) of Caenorhabditis elegans to investigate this question, through genetic dissection of process outgrowth both in vivo and in vitro With single-cell RNA-seq, we compare transcription profiles for TRNs with those of two other sensory neurons, and present evidence that each sensory neuron expresses a distinct palette of tubulin genes. In the TRNs, we analyze process outgrowth and show that four tubulins (tba-1, tba-2, tbb-1, and tbb-2) function partially or fully redundantly, while two others (mec-7 and mec-12) perform specialized, context-dependent roles. Our findings support a model in which sensory neurons express overlapping subsets of tubulin genes whose functional redundancy varies between cell types and in vivo and in vitro contexts.

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