Using an immunoelectron microscopic procedure, we directly observed the concurrent addition and loss of chicken brain tubulin subunits from the opposite ends of microtubules containing erythrocyte tubulin domains. The polarity of growth of the brain tubulin on the ends of erythrocyte microtubules was determined to be similar to growth off the ends of Chlamydomonas axonemes. The flux rate for brain tubulin subunits in vitro was low, approximately 0.9 micron/h. Tubulin subunit flux did not continue through the entire microtubule as expected, but ceased when erythrocyte tubulin domains became exposed, resulting in a metastable configuration that persisted for at least several hours. We attribute this to differences in the critical concentrations of erythrocyte and brain tubulin. The exchange of tubulin subunits into the walls of preformed microtubules other than at their ends was also determined to be insignificant, the exchange rate being less than the sensitivity of the assay, or less than 0.2%/h.

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