The C-terminus of alpha-tubulin undergoes a reversible posttranslational tyrosination/detyrosination. The distributions of the tyrosinated (Tyr) and nontyrosinated (Glu) species during mitosis of cultured cells have been investigated by immunofluorescence using antibodies directed against the C-terminus of either Tyr or Glu tubulin. The distribution of Tyr tubulin differed from that of Glu tubulin at each stage of mitosis; in general, the distribution of Tyr tubulin was similar to that of total tubulin, whereas Glu tubulin had a more restricted distribution. The Glu species was found in half-spindle fibers but was not detected in astral fibers at any stage and was seen in the interzone only during telophase. These results were confirmed by a direct comparison of the distributions of Tyr and Glu tubulin in cells double-labeled with the two antibodies. Evidence for the occurrence of Tyr and Glu tubulin in each class of half-spindle fibers (kinetochore and polar) was obtained from the staining patterns of the two antibodies in cold-treated cells. Immunoblots of extracts prepared from synchronous mitotic cells showed that Glu tubulin was a minor species of the total tubulin in the spindle; no changes in the amount of either Tyr or Glu tubulin were detected at any stage of mitosis. These results show that Tyr tubulin is the major species in the mitotic spindle and is found in all classes of spindle fibers, whereas Glu tubulin is present in small amounts and shows a more restricted distribution. The presence of two biochemically distinct forms of alpha-tubulin in the spindle may be important for spindle function.

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