Although the overall structures of flagellar and cytoplasmic microtubules are understood, many details have remained a matter of debate. In particular, studies of the arrangement of tubulin subunits have been hampered by the low contrast of the tubulin subunits. This problem can now be addressed by the kinesin decoration technique. We have shown previously that the recombinant kinesin head domain binds to beta-tubulin, thus enhancing the contrast between alpha- and beta-tubulin in the electron microscope; this allows one to study the arrangement of tubulin dimers. Here we describe the lattices of the four different types of microtubules in eukaryotic flagellar axonemes (outer doublet A and B, central pair C1 and C2). They could all be labeled with kinesin head with an 8-nm axial periodicity (the tubulin dimer repeat), and all of them showed the B-surface lattice. This lattice is characterized by a 0.92-nm stagger between adjacent protofilaments. The B-lattice was observed on the axonemal microtubules as well as on extensions made by polymerizing porcine brain tubulin onto axonemal microtubules in the proximal and distal directions. This emphasizes that axonemal microtubules serve as high fidelity templates for seeding microtubules. The presence of a B-lattice implies that there must be a helical discontinuity ("seam") in the wall. This discontinuity is now placed near protofilaments A1 and A2 of the A-tubule, close to the inner junction between A- and B-microtubules. The two junctions differ in structure: the protofilaments of the inner junction (A1-B10) are staggered roughly by half a dimer, those of the outer junction (A10-B1) are roughly in register. Of the two junctions the inner one appears to have the stronger bonds, whereas the outer one is more labile and opens up easily, generating "composite sheets" with chevron patterns from which the polarity can be deduced (arrow in the plus direction). Decorated microtubules have a clear polarity. We find that all flagellar microtubules have the same polarities. The orientation of the dimers is such that the plus end terminates with a crown of alpha subunits, the minus end terminates with beta subunits which thus could be in contact with gamma-tubulin at the nucleation centers.

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