We have studied the dynamics of microtubules in black tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) melanophores to test the possible correlation of microtubule stability and intracellular particle transport. X-rhodamine-or caged fluorescein-conjugated tubulin were microinjected and visualized by fluorescence digital imaging using a cooled charge coupled device and videomicroscopy. Microtubule dynamics were evaluated by determining the time course of tubulin incorporation after pulse injection, by time lapse observation, and by quantitation of fluorescence redistribution after photobleaching and photoactivation. The time course experiments showed that the kinetics of incorporation of labeled tubulin into microtubules were similar for cells with aggregated or dispersed pigment with most microtubules becoming fully labeled within 15-20 min after injection. Quantitation by fluorescence redistribution after photobleaching and photoactivation confirmed that microtubule turnover was rapid in both states, t1/2 = 3.5 +/- 1.5 and 6.1 +/- 3.0 min for cells with aggregated and dispersed pigment, respectively. In addition, immunostaining with antibodies specific to posttranslationally modified alpha-tubulin, which is usually enriched in stable microtubules, showed that microtubules composed exclusively of detyrosinated tubulin were absent and microtubules containing acetylated tubulin were sparse. We conclude that the microtubules of melanophores are very dynamic, that their dynamic properties do not depend critically on the state of pigment distribution, and that their stabilization is not a prerequisite for intracellular transport.

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