The influence of phosphorylation on the binding of microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) to cellular microtubules was studied by microinjecting MAP2 in various phosphorylation states into rat-1 fibroblasts, which lack endogenous MAP2. Conventionally prepared brain MAP2, containing 10 mol of endogenous phosphate per mol (MAP2-P10), was completely bound to cellular microtubules within 2-3 min after injection. MAP2 prepared in the presence of phosphatase inhibitors, containing 25 mol/mol of phosphate (MAP2-P25), also bound completely. However, MAP2 whose phosphate content had been reduced to 2 mol phosphate per mol by treatment with alkaline phosphatase in vitro (MAP2-P2) did not initially bind to microtubules, suggesting that phosphorylation of certain sites in MAP2 is essential for binding to microtubules. MAP2-P10 was further phosphorylated in vitro via an endogenously bound protein kinase activity, adding 12 more phosphates, giving a total of 22 mol/mol. This preparation (MAP2-P10+12) also did not bind to microtubules. Assay of the binding of these preparations to taxol-stabilized tubulin polymers in vitro confirmed that their binding to tubulin depended on the state of phosphorylation, but the results obtained in microinjection experiments differed in some cases from in vitro binding. The results suggest that the site of phosphate incorporation rather than the amount is the critical factor in determining microtubule binding activity of MAP2. Furthermore, the interaction of MAP2 with cellular microtubules may be influenced by additional factors that are not evident in vitro.

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