, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 177-191
Date: 30 Jun 2009

On and Around Microtubules: An Overview

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Abstract

Microtubules are hollow tubes some 25 nm in diameter participating in the eukaryotic cytoskeleton. They are built from αβ-tubulin heterodimers that associate to form protofilaments running lengthwise along the microtubule wall with the β-tubulin subunit facing the microtubule plus end conferring a structural polarity. The α- and β-tubulins are highly conserved. A third member of the tubulin family, γ-tubulin, plays a role in microtubule nucleation and assembly. Other members of the tubulin family appear to be involved in microtubule nucleation. Microtubule assembly is accompanied by hydrolysis of GTP associated with β-tubulin so that microtubules consist principally of ‘GDP-tubulin’ stabilized at the plus end by a short ‘cap’. An important property of microtubules is dynamic instability characterized by growth randomly interrupted by pauses and shrinkage. Many proteins interact with microtubules within the cell and are involved in essential functions such as microtubule growth, stabilization, destabilization, and interactions with chromosomes during cell division. The motor proteins kinesin and dynein use microtubules as pathways for transport and are also involved in cell division. Crystallography and electron microscopy are providing a structural basis for understanding the interactions of microtubules with antimitotic drugs, with motor proteins and with plus end tracking proteins.