alpha-, beta-, and gamma-tubulins are evolutionarily highly conserved members of the tubulin gene superfamily. While the abundant members, alpha- and beta-tubulins, constitute the building blocks of cellular microtubule polymers, gamma-tubulin is a low abundance protein which localized to the pericentriolar material and may play a role in microtubule assembly. To test whether gamma-tubulin mediates the nucleation of microtubule assembly in vivo, and co-assembles with alpha- and beta-tubulins into microtubules or self-assembles into macro-molecular structures, we experimentally elevated the expression of gamma-tubulin in the cell cytoplasm. In most cells, overexpression of gamma-tubulin causes a dramatic reorganization of the cellular microtubule network. Furthermore, we show that when overexpressed, gamma-tubulin causes ectopic nucleation of microtubules which are not associated with the centrosome. In a fraction of cells, gamma-tubulin self-assembles into novel tubular structures with a diameter of approximately 50 nm (named gamma-tubules). Furthermore, unlike microtubules, gamma-tubules are resistant to cold or drug induced depolymerization. These data provide evidence that gamma-tubulin can cause nucleation of microtubule assembly and can self-assemble into novel tubular structures.

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