Microtubules are dynamic polymers that interconvert between phases of growth and shrinkage, yet they provide structural stability to cells. Growth involves hydrolysis of GTP-tubulin to GDP-tubulin, which releases energy that is stored within the microtubule lattice and destabilizes it; a GTP cap at microtubule ends is thought to prevent GDP subunits from rapidly dissociating and causing catastrophe. Here, using in vitro reconstitution assays, we show that GDP-tubulin, usually considered inactive, can itself assemble into microtubules, preferentially at the minus end, and promote persistent growth. GDP-tubulin-assembled microtubules are highly stable, displaying no detectable spontaneous shrinkage. Strikingly, islands of GDP-tubulin within dynamic microtubules stop shrinkage events and promote rescues. Microtubules thus possess an intrinsic capacity for stability, independent of accessory proteins. This finding provides novel mechanisms to explain microtubule dynamics.

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