The evolution of the structure of tubulin and its potential consequences for the role and function of microtubules in cells and embryos

Jack A. Tuszynski, Eric J. Carpenter, J. Torin Huzil, Wojtek Malinski, Tyler Luchko, Richard F. Ludueña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


This paper discusses the results of homology modeling and resulting calculation of key structural and physical properties for close to 300 tubulin sequences, including α, β, γ, δ and ε-tubulins. The basis for our calculations was the structure of the tubulin dimer published several years ago by Nogales et al. (1998), later refined to 3.5 Å resolution by Löwe et al. (2001). While, it appears that the α, β and γ-tubulins segregate into distinct structural families, we have found several differences in the physical properties within each group. Each of the α, β and γ-tubulin groups exhibit major differences in their net electric charge, dipole moments and dipole vector orientations. These properties could influence functional characteristics such as microtubule stability and assembly kinetics, due to their effects on the strength of protein-protein interactions. In addition to the general structural trends between tubulin isoforms, we have observed that the carboxy-termini of α and β-tubulin exists in at least two stable configurations, either projecting away from the tubulin (or microtubule) surface, or collapsed onto the surface. In the latter case, the carboxy-termini form a lattice distinctly different from that of the well-known A and B lattices formed by the tubulin subunits. However, this C-terminal lattice is indistinguishable from the lattice formed when the microtubule-associated protein tau binds to the microtubule surface. Finally, we have discussed how tubulin sequence diversity arose in evolution giving rise to its particular phylogeny and how it may be used in cell- and tissue-specific expression including embryonal development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-358
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Developmental Biology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Dipole
  • Homology model
  • Isoform
  • Microtubule
  • Tubulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Developmental Biology


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