The major component of the cytoskeleton of the parasitic hemoflagellate Trypanosoma brucei is a membrane skeleton which consists of a single layer of tightly spaced microtubules. This array encloses the entire cell body, and it is apposed to, and connected with, the overlying cell membrane. The microtubules of this array contain numerous microtubule-associated proteins. Prominent among those is a family of high molecular weight, repetitive proteins which consist to a large extent of tandemly arranged 38-amino acid repeat units. The binding of one of these proteins, MARP-1, to microtubules has now been characterized in vitro and in vivo. MARP-1 binds to microtubules via tubulin domains other than the COOH-termini used by microtubule-associated proteins from mammalian brain, e.g., MAP2 or Tau. In vitro binding assays using recombinant protein, as well as transfection of mammalian cell lines, have established that the repetitive 38-amino acid repeat units represent a novel microtubule-binding motif. This motif is very similar in length to those of the mammalian microtubule-associated proteins Tau, MAP2, and MAP-U, but both its sequence and charge are different. The observation that the microtubule-binding motifs both of the neural and the trypanosomal proteins are of similar length may reflect the fact that both mediate binding to the same repetitive surface, the microtubule, while their sequence and charge differences are in agreement with the observation that they interact with different domains of the tubulins.

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