The relationship between alpha tubulin detyrosination and microtubule (MT) stability was examined directly in cultured fibroblasts by experimentally converting the predominantly tyrosinated MT array to a detyrosinated (Glu) array and then assaying MT stability. MTs in mouse Swiss 3T3 cells displayed an increase in Glu immunostaining fluorescence approximately 1 h after microinjecting antibodies to the tyrosinating enzyme, tubulin tyrosine ligase. Detyrosination progressed to virtual completion after 12 h and persisted for 30-35 h before tyrosinated subunits within MTs were again detected. The stability of these experimentally detyrosinated MTs was tested by first injecting either biotinylated or Xrhodamine-labeled tubulin and then measuring bulk turnover by hapten-mediated immunocytochemistry or fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, respectively. By both methods, turnover was found to be similarly rapid, possessing a half time of approximately 3 min. As a final test of MT stability, the level of acetylated tubulin staining in antibody-injected cells was compared with that observed in adjacent, uninjected cells and also with the staining observed in cells whose MTs had been stabilized with taxol. Although intense Glu staining was observed in both injected and taxol-treated cells, increased acetylated tubulin staining was observed only in the taxol-stabilized MTs, indicating that the MTs were not stabilized by detyrosination. Together, these results demonstrated clearly that detyrosination does not directly confer stability on MTs. Therefore, the stable MTs observed in these and other cell lines must have arisen by another mechanism, and may have become posttranslationally modified after their stabilization.

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