Microtubule polymer levels in mouse 3T6 fibroblasts and primary cultures of rat hepatocytes can be manipulated by treatment of cells with long term, low doses of colcemid. Such treatment produces a rather uniform population of cells with microtubules of reduced lengths. Using this system, we demonstrate (a) that the rate of tubulin synthesis is sensitive to small changes (10%) in microtubule polymer mass and (b) that the percent of inhibition of synthesis is proportional to the level of soluble tubulin. Experiments with hepatocytes indicate that not only synthesis but the stability of tubulin protein was also regulated to maintain a specific level of tubulin. Treatment of hepatocytes with colcemid or other microtubule-depolymerizing drugs reduced the half-life of tubulin from 50 to 2 h, whereas taxol, which stabilizes microtubules, increased the half-life. To assess the consequences of altering microtubule polymer mass, we have analyzed the effect of controlled depolymerization of microtubules in rat hepatocytes on the processing of endocytosed ligands and found it sensitive to small changes in microtubule polymer levels.

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