Tannic acid fixation reveals differences in the number of protofilaments between microtubules (MTs) in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Most cells have MTs with 11 protofilaments but the six touch receptor neurons (the microtubule cells) have MTs with 15 protofilaments. No 13-protofilament (13-p) MT has been seen. The modified cilia of sensory neurons also possess unusual structures. The cilia contain nine outer doublets with A subfibers of 13 protofilaments and B subfibers of 11 protofilaments and a variable number of inner singlet MTs containing 11 protofilaments. The 15-p MTs but not the 11-p MTs are eliminated by colchicine-treatment or by mutation of the gene mec-7. Concomitantly, touch sensitivity is also lost. However, whereas colchicine treatment leads to the loss of all MTs from the microtubule cells, mutations in mec-7 result in the partial replacement of the 15-p MTs with 11-p MTs. Benzimidazoles (benomyl and nocodazole) have more general effects on C. elegans (slow growth, severe uncoordination, and loss of processes from the ventral cord) but do not affect the 15-p MTs. Benomyl will, however, disrupt the replacement 11-p MTs found in the microtubule cells of mec-7 mutants. The 11-p and 15-p MTs also respond differently to temperature and fixation conditions. It is likely that either type of MT will suffice for the proper outgrowth of the microtubule cell process, but only the 15-p MT can function in the specialized role of sensory transduction of the microtubule cells.

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