Nerve growth factor induces neurite process formation in pheochromacytoma (PC12) cells and causes the parallel increase in levels of the microtubule-associated proteins, tau and MAP1, as well as increases in tubulin levels. Mechanisms to insure balanced accumulation of microtubule proteins and make their levels highly responsive to nerve growth factor were investigated. The effects on tau, MAP1, and tubulin are due to changes in protein synthesis rates, which for tau and tubulin we could show are due in part to changes in the mRNA levels. Whereas tubulin shows feedback regulation to modulate synthesis up or down, tau protein synthesis is not affected in a straightforward way by microtubule polymerization and depolymerization. The degradation of tau, MAP1, and both tubulin polypeptides, however, are stimulated by microtubule depolymerization caused by colchicine, or nerve growth factor removal. Combined feedback on synthesis and stability make tubulin levels highly responsive to assembly states. In addition, the linkage of tau and MAP1 turnover with the state of microtubule polymerization amplifies any change in their rate of synthesis, since tau and MAP1 promote microtubule polymerization. This linkage lends itself to rapid changes in the state of the system in response to nerve growth factor.

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