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Essays Biochem. 2018 Dec 7;62(6):737-751. doi: 10.1042/EBC20180031. Print 2018 Dec 7.

Microtubule structure by cryo-EM: snapshots of dynamic instability.

Author information

1
Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London, U.K. s.manka@mail.cryst.bbk.ac.uk.
2
Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London, U.K.

Abstract

The development of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) allowed microtubules to be captured in their solution-like state, enabling decades of insight into their dynamic mechanisms and interactions with binding partners. Cryo-EM micrographs provide 2D visualization of microtubules, and these 2D images can also be used to reconstruct the 3D structure of the polymer and any associated binding partners. In this way, the binding sites for numerous components of the microtubule cytoskeleton-including motor domains from many kinesin motors, and the microtubule-binding domains of dynein motors and an expanding collection of microtubule associated proteins-have been determined. The effects of various microtubule-binding drugs have also been studied. High-resolution cryo-EM structures have also been used to probe the molecular basis of microtubule dynamic instability, driven by the GTPase activity of β-tubulin. These studies have shown the conformational changes in lattice-confined tubulin dimers in response to steps in the tubulin GTPase cycle, most notably lattice compaction at the longitudinal inter-dimer interface. Although work is ongoing to define a complete structural model of dynamic instability, attention has focused on the role of gradual destabilization of lateral contacts between tubulin protofilaments, particularly at the microtubule seam. Furthermore, lower resolution cryo-electron tomography 3D structures are shedding light on the heterogeneity of microtubule ends and how their 3D organization contributes to dynamic instability. The snapshots of these polymers captured using cryo-EM will continue to provide critical insights into their dynamics, interactions with cellular components, and the way microtubules contribute to cellular functions in diverse physiological contexts.

KEYWORDS:

MAPs; cryo-electron microscopy; cryo-electron tomography; cytoskeleton; microtubule; molecular motors

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