Taxol, a natural plant product that enhances the rate and extent of microtubule assembly in vitro and stabilizes microtubules in vitro and in cells, was labeled with tritium by catalytic exchange with (3)H(2)O. The binding of [(3)H]taxol to microtubule protein was studied by a sedimentation assay. Microtubules assembled in the presence of [(3)H]taxol bind drug specifically with an apparent binding constant, K(app), of 8.7 x 19(-7) M and binding saturates with a calculated maximal binding ration, B(max), of 0.6 mol taxol bound/mol tubulin dimer. [(3)H]Taxol also binds and assembles phosphocellulose-purified tubulin, and we suggest that taxol stabilizes interactions between dimers that lead to microtubule polymer formation. With both microtubule protein and phosphocellulose- purified tubulin, binding saturation occurs at approximate stoichiometry with the tubulin dimmer concentration. Under assembly conditions, podophyllotoxin and vinblastine inhibit the binding of [(3)H]taxol to microtubule protein in a complex manner which we believe reflects a competition between these drugs, not for a single binding site, but for different forms (dimer and polymer) of tubulin. Steady-state microtubules assembled with GTP or with 5'-guanylyl-α,β-methylene diphosphonate (GPCPP), a GTP analog reported to inhibit microtubule treadmilling (I.V. Sandoval and K. Weber. 1980. J. Biol. Chem. 255:6966-6974), bind [(3)H]taxol with approximately the same stoichiometry as microtubules assembled in the presence of [(3)H]taxol. Such data indicate that a taxol binding site exists on the intact microtubule. Unlabeled taxol competitively displaces [(3)H]taxol from microtubules, while podophyllotoxin, vinblastine, and CaCl(2) do not. Podophyllotoxin and vinblastine, however, reduce the mass of sedimented taxol-stabilized microtubules, but the specific activity of bound [(3)H]taxol in the pellet remains constant. We conclude that taxol binds specifically and reversibly to a polymerized form of tubulin with a stoichiometry approaching unity.

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