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J Cell Biol. 1997 Sep 8;138(5):1067-75.

Domains of neuronal microtubule-associated proteins and flexural rigidity of microtubules.

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Adolf-Butenandt-Institut, Zellbiologie, 80336 München, Germany.


Microtubules are flexible polymers whose mechanical properties are an important factor in the determination of cell architecture and function. It has been proposed that the two most prominent neuronal microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs), tau and MAP2, whose microtubule binding regions are largely homologous, make an important contribution to the formation and maintenance of neuronal processes, putatively by increasing the rigidity of microtubules. Using optical tweezers to manipulate single microtubules, we have measured their flexural rigidity in the presence of various constructs of tau and MAP2c. The results show a three- or fourfold increase of microtubule rigidity in the presence of wild-type tau or MAP2c, respectively. Unexpectedly, even low concentrations of MAPs promote a substantial increase in microtubule rigidity. Thus at approximately 20% saturation with full-length tau, a microtubule exhibits >80% of the rigidity observed at near saturating concentrations. Several different constructs of tau or MAP2 were used to determine the relative contribution of certain subdomains in the microtubule-binding region. All constructs tested increase microtubule rigidity, albeit to different extents. Thus, the repeat domains alone increase microtubule rigidity only marginally, whereas the domains flanking the repeats make a significant contribution. Overall, there is an excellent correlation between the strength of binding of a MAP construct to microtubules (as represented by its dissociation constant Kd) and the increase in microtubule rigidity. These findings demonstrate that neuronal MAPs as well as constructs derived from them increase microtubule rigidity, and that the changes in rigidity observed with different constructs correlate well with other biochemical and physiological parameters.

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