We have isolated a protein factor from Xenopus eggs that promotes microtubule assembly in vitro. Assembly promotion was associated with a 215-kD protein after a 1,000-3,000-fold enrichment of activity. The 215-kD protein, termed Xenopus microtubule assembly protein (XMAP), binds to microtubules with a stoichiometry of 0.06 mol/mol tubulin dimer. XMAP is immunologically distinct from the Xenopus homologues to mammalian brain microtubule-associated proteins; however, protein species immunologically related to XMAP with different molecular masses are found in Xenopus neuronal tissues and testis. XMAP is unusual in that it specifically promotes microtubule assembly at the plus-end. At a molar ratio of 0.01 mol XMAP/mol tubulin the assembly rate of the microtubule plus-end is accelerated 8-fold while the assembly rate of the minus-end is increased only 1.8-fold. Under these conditions XMAP promotes a 10-fold increase in the on-rate constant (from 1.4 s-1.microM-1 for microtubules assembled from pure tubulin to 15 s-1.microM-1), and a 10-fold decrease in off-rate constant (from 340 to 34 s-1). Given its stoichiometry in vivo, XMAP must be the major microtubule assembly factor in the Xenopus egg. XMAP is phosphorylated during M-phase of both meiotic and mitotic cycles, suggesting that its activity may be regulated during the cell cycle.

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